This post is part of a series produced by Fusion and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter’s CGI University meeting (March 6-8 at the University of Miami). CGI University gathers more than 1000 student leaders to create solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. For more information, click here.
Click here to read more of Fusion’s coverage of the event.
What was once a convenient and affordable way of getting a good lunch on the go, the urban food truck seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere. In the past decade, these restaurants on wheels have been vying for prime spots at college campuses and office suite parking lots, selling everything from transnational tacos to artisanal cupcakes from the sides of their ironically named trucks.
But now, the concept of the food truck is being once again reimagined.
Recently, some have asked what would happen if food trucks ditched the deep fryers and flat top-grills in favor of shelving and refrigeration stocked with fresh produce. And instead of selling premium priced grub to college students, what if they sold healthy food at discounted prices in food deserts where nutritious options are needed the most?
Nonprofits in cities like Chicago, Kansas City, Atlanta, Memphis, Boston, Seattle, and now St. Louis have found ways to do just that. Through transformed food trucks and reclaimed city buses, they are bringing fresh food to the under-served.
All signs point to this being more than just a fad. With one in six people in America facing hunger, here are four reasons why mobile farmers’ markets are the way forward.
— Jeremy Goss
What if food trucks ditched the deep fryers and flat-top grills in favor of shelving and refrigeration stocked with fresh produce?
1. Food trucks could help combat "food flight" and food deserts.
Big-box grocery stores have continued a trend of closing stores in low-income neighborhoods and migrating to the suburbs, leaving 23.5 million Americans without access to healthy, affordable food. As more of these stores close, basic necessities like fruits and vegetables are becoming scarcities in these areas known as food deserts.
Mobile farmers’ markets work by selling healthy foods to the communities that traditional grocery stores have abandoned. The foods that they sell are often sourced from local farms and community gardens so there is an added benefit to the local economy.
Some have even found a way to co-opt corner liquor stores into selling these same high quality, healthy foods when the mobile market is not open.
2. They could come to stranded families.
Most food desert residents don’t have a car, and even with public transportation, the weekly routine of wrestling groceries home, in arm, is just too cumbersome. With cuts to public transportation in many states across the country, trips to the supermarket are now even more challenging to make.
Mobile farmers’ markets sell directly in and to food desert communities to reduce the burden of poor transportation. And to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to shop, days, times, and locations for operating are often worked out in advance with community leadership.
3. They could help keep healthy food affordable.
Despite some economic recovery, wages have stagnated and income inequality has risen to record highs, giving the average American worker less money to buy increasingly expensive goods. Most mobile farmers’ markets utilize sliding scale memberships to subsidize the cost of selling fresh, locally sourced produce at or below cost in food deserts. Simply put, mobile farmers’ markets incentivize healthy eating by keeping their food affordable.
4. These programs have already proven successful.
In recent years, organizations like Memphis’ Green Machineand Phoenix’s Fresh Express have set up shop in food deserts and made a noticeable impact.
After seeing the issues surrounding limited food access in my city, I co-founded the St. Louis MetroMarket – a non-profit mobile farmers’ market developed as a commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to restore access to healthy foods for St. Louis area food deserts.
Since demonstrating proof of concept with a pilot program in one of the region’s largest food desert communities, the St. Louis MetroMarket has been invited into several new neighborhoods for the official launch this summer. And through partnerships with a growing number of St. Louis corporations, we can now subsidize operations in low income areas and remain sustainable by concurrently selling our high-quality, healthy foods at local corporate campuses for competitive market prices.
This week, as I join over 1000 Millennials for CGIU 2015 to share the progress I’ve made in St. Louis, I am calling on others from cities around the world to join me in advancing a newer, fresher vision for the urban food truck.
Jeremy Goss, a participant in the 2015 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University, is a fourth year medical student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and the co-founder and president of the St. Louis MetroMarket, a non-profit mobile farmers’ market that will restore access to healthy foods in all St. Louis area food deserts.
In addition, Jeremy currently serves as the Research Fellow for the Department of Pediatric Plastic Surgery at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center where he is involved in research aimed at improving clinical outcomes for children with cleft palates and other craniofacial anomalies.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Baylor University, graduating from their Honors College with distinction. At his alma mater, Jeremy was appointed to serve as a Baylor Ambassador and lobbied the Texas Senate on Baylor’s behalf in support of the continuation of grant funding for higher education. Jeremy is pursuing a career in pediatric plastic surgery.