An Alternative to Grocery Stores: Mobile Markets

In food deserts, where low-income individuals have little to no access to fresh, healthy, affordable foods, the solution is usually to encourage grocery stores to open in the area. However, getting grocery stores to open in food deserts is not as easy as it sounds. It takes time, money, and convincing, because most store owners would prefer to open in affluent areas. Without grocery stores, these areas are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores offering few healthy, affordable food options. One of the solutions to this issue has been mobile markets, i.e., remodeled buses that bring fresh, high quality food to underserved areas at an affordable price.

Mobile markets tend to be old city or school buses remodeled to look like a farmers market. They make numerous stops throughout neighborhoods, serving individuals, families, school-age children, senior citizens, educators and the like. The creators of mobile markets hope to provide a solution to the problem, all while bringing awareness to the issues.

Being both a cost efficient and effective fix to the food desert problem, mobile markets can help bridge the physical, financial, and educational barriers in food deserts. This in turn can help alleviate some of the issues that coincide with living in food deserts such as obesity, diabetes, and other diet related disease. Another added bonus, is that because these markets are themselves mobile, individuals with lack of transportation will have better access to a healthier diet.

Mobile produce markets have been running throughout cities around the country, including Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago, Illinois. For example, Discovery Triangle Development Corporation, a nonprofit focused on advocating for improvements in Phoenix, runs a mobile produce market called Fresh Express Bus. The bus operates three days a week, making five stops per day, servicing around 100 customers per day. Fresh Express allows food-stamp recipients to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, and have their purchases matched dollar for dollar. So if you have $5 on your EBT card, they will match it so you’ll have $10 to shop. One of the goals of Discovery Triangle is to Bringing awareness to these areas and showing grocery store owners that they are needed in the area. Their efforts seem to be working. For example, in downtown Phoenix, one of the first areas where Fresh Express began making stops, there are plans to build a Fry’s Food store.

Another example is Fresh Moves Mobile Market in Chicago. It is comprised of two transit authority buses no longer in service, and was started by a $100,000 federal grant. The market sources its produce locally when possible, and runs five days a week. The bus makes stops at health clinics, schools, day care centers, farmers markets, parks, and housing complexes.

Whether or not these mobile markets will have long term benefits is still to be determined. Only time will tell if they will live up to their potential, but as of now, they are efforts in the right direction.

Posted by Vivian DePietro – Research Fellow