If you ask an individual living in a food desert what his biggest problems are in accessing healthy foods, his response will most likely be access and affordability. One solution to these issues is the “farm-to-table” movement—the process of producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers through farmers’ markets and other venues.
One of the most innovating ways to bring the farm-to-table movement to food deserts” is to put the fresh food on wheels and bring the farmers’ markets to the food deserts. Organizers, who are using the mobile market model, are also doing everything in their power to make the food affordable to the individuals. By connecting local farmers with the struggling communities, these organizers are helping to bridge the gap between healthy foods, and food deserts.
For example, in food deserts of the Washington, D.C. area, a single mom talked about how she is not able to get her hands on healthy organic food because she does not live by any major supermarkets, and even when she can get there, it is too expensive for her. An organization called Arcadia is combatting this issue by serving communities with mobile markets, where others have failed. They also do not just bring the food to the communities, they make it affordable by giving food stamp customers $2 of food for every $1.
Also, in Baltimore, the city gave the rights to a park to the Civic Works organization to start an urban farm. The volunteers to this organization fill up their truck a few times a week, and bring produce to the communities. They do not only bring the food to the people, they also make efforts to keep it affordable. In order to do that, they accept food stamps, and match the first $5 a customer spends on produce. This way, the customer gets double the produce.
It is still up in the air about whether or not mobile food trucks will be able to solve the problem of food deserts, but the results thus far are promising. Some studies show that increasing access to healthy foods increases the overall health of individuals in food deserts. However, other studies have shown that it may increase access, but it does not change how individuals eat. This latter finding generally correlates to education about what is healthy and how to prepare these healthier options. That being said, it is important for these organizations to not just bring the healthier food, but to also educate the communities they are trying to serve. In Baltimore, the Civic Works volunteers educate the customers by explaining to them how to cook the produce they have on the truck that day and by bringing the truck to schools to get the children engaged. More organizations should follow the Civic Works model.
Posted by Vivian DePietro – Research Fellow