Better Health for Food Deserts: Are Mobile Farmers Markets the Answer?

Farmers markets on wheels may just be the new trend to solve the lack of nutritious, fresh food in food deserts around the nation.

An innovative way to tackle the obesity epidemic comes on four wheels, as mobile farmers' markets are working to solve the lack of nutritious, fresh food in food deserts around the nation.

Obesity is a public health epidemic; 155 million adults—nearly half of the adult population—are obese or overweight. A recently report written by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Obesity Society suggested new guidelines for doctors to start treating obesity more aggressively, including encouraging patients to eat a healthier diet. But for the 23.5 million people in the U.S. who are living in food deserts, upping their daily fruit and vegetable intake can be challenging. Food deserts are urban and rural areas without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. For many, a fast food restaurant is right around the corner, but a grocery store with fresh food is miles away—possibly inaccessible for those without a car.

Which is why the new trend of mobile farmers' markets is so encouraging: These trucks often support local, organic farmers and deliver food directly to the community—keeping spending local and increasing access to fruits and veggies to families who can benefit from them the most. Here are a few of the mobile farmers markets across the country that are attempting to address these issues by bringing nutritious, affordable food directly to the areas that would benefit from them the most.

Arcadia’s Mobile Market—Washington, D.C.

This retired school bus now brings local, sustainable produce to schools, parks, churches and senior living facilities in underserved communities in the D.C. area. In their first-year report, the Mobile Market reports that from the $43,000 of produce and local food that the non-profit supplied, almost half of that amount was sold to customers using their federal benefits like WIC and SNAP.

Garden on the Go—Indianapolis, IN

This truck, launched by Indiana University in 2011, has provided approximately 150 tons of fresh food to communities in Marion County in the few years it’s been open. The mobile market responded to the need healthier food in their backyard—only two percent of people living in Marion County get the recommended daily intake of fruits and veggies, according to the Garden on the Go.

Fresh Truck—Boston, MA

On their blog, the founders of the Fresh Truck lists a few reasons why the Fresh Truck—another refitted school bus—was put into action: half of all Massachusetts residents are overweight or obese. Boston, specifically, has 30 percent fewer supermarkets per capita than the national average. The Fresh Truck, which started making rounds last year, coordinates with farmers markets to bring fresh food to underserved communities for approximately 20 percent less than grocery stores.

Mobile Farmers Market—Baltimore, MD

Real Food Farm, a 6-acre urban agricultural project, started the mobile farmers market to bring the food grown in their sustainable greenhouses directly to Baltimore’s food deserts. They operate seasonally and stop at schools, offices, residential communities, libraries and other public spaces, and offers the option of home deliveries for those who are unable to make it to their stops.

Freshest Cargo—Bay Area, CA

Supported by a grant from the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program, Freshest Cargo operates in various low-income food deserts in Contra Costa counties. The mobile market, which started selling fresh produce just this summer, also offers community-based programs and information about CalFresh nutrition assistance program.

Fresh Moves Mobile Food Market—Chicago, IL

Fresh Moves has been operating since 2011 and now has two buses with fresh produce moving through in-need neighborhoods in the West and South side of Chicago. The buses—donated from the Chicago Transit Authority—run all year-round and people can pay for their food with federal benefits.

Mobile Good Food Market—Toronto, Canada

The Mobile Good Food Market has been serving Torontonians living in food deserts since the program launched in June 2012. Now, with the donation of a decommissioned bus from the Toronto Transit Commission, the truck brings fresh, nutritious food to eight neighborhoods throughout Toronto year-round.

Know of any similar mobile farmers markets in your area? Tell us below if you’ve spotted any farmers market trucks making their way around town.

Fruits and vegetables image from Shutterstock

Mobile market image via (cc) Flickr user quemac