Living in New York City, one can easily get spoiled with having access to a slew of Farmers Markets offering fresh produce any day of the week. In other parts of the country (or this city for that matter), good organic food is not so easy to come by. To tackle the issue of availability, mobile Farmers Markets have started popping up all over the country. To me, this is a brilliant solution to a few different problems. First, you can ensure that the these farm trucks visit every area of a city, from poverty-stricken food deserts to well-off suburban streets. Also, if the farmers operate these trucks themselves they will only need to load the produce once and then spend their time more efficiently, selling their goods. Many people tend to forget just how much work Farmers Markets are for the actual farmers who have to load their trucks, drive in to the city, spend all day manning their stands and then truck everything they couldn’t sell back to the farm.
After learning about the dire situation of our current food system during graduate studies in the Disaster Science/Emergency Management program at the University of Richmond in Disaster Science/Emergency Management program, Mark Lilly started Farm to Family, a farm truck operation based in central Virginia. “I became so passionate about the dire situation we are facing right now regarding food/water insecurity that I decided change it on the local level immediately. I dropped the program and started Farm to Family as I knew this was my calling.” Lilly’s vessel of choice is a 1987 international diesel school bus. “Farm to Family is about building personal relationships within the community and bringing people together. We source fresh local products while reconnecting people with real food. We grow and source produce within the community, concentrating on quality chemical free products and buildings relationships with small local growers and producers. One of our goals is to have everyone growing their own food and using the bus as a vehicle to help sell and distribute their fruits back into the community in which it was grown.”
Similarly, the Buffalo Grown Mobile Marketplace (shown in top image), which is part of the Massachusetts Avenue Project and was launched last year, brings organic, locally-grown, affordable produce, diverse locally-made food products, education and resources to Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods. The highly successful program sold approximately 2,000 pounds of local, organic foods to residents of Buffalo’s West side in 2009.
In NYC, Holton Farms has taken the concept one step further by offering a CSA program with drop-off points throughout the city. Customers can track the truck, that seems to service all five boroughs, on Twitter and use the website to find out what is fresh and available. The Holton Farms truck is the brainchild of cousins Jurrien Swarts and Seth Holton, whose family’s Vermont farm is one of about nine that supplies much of the produce sold from the truck. The pair had originally wanted to sell at NYC’s Greenmarket, but found the application process prohibitive and weren’t sure they could differentiate themselves from other vendors. “We had to implement this strategy of, ‘How do we get into the city?’” Swarts tells Grub Street New York. “How do we get into this market without anyone saying no?” The answer was, well, a drive-by.
GOOD Magazine held a competition last year, calling for ideas on how to Redesign Your Farmer’s Market. Many entries suggested mobile solutions, including the winner — Farm on Wheels by architecture firm Mia Lehrer + Associates, a program that brings locally grown produce to the people of L.A. County. Another notable submission was The Urban Field Farm Stop, by BCV Associates, a project that calls for bus stops to be used as distribution point for straight-from-the-farmproducts. Farm Wagon by Bill McCullam proposes hooking up refurbished NYC Subway Transit cars to trains in order to create Farmers Markets that are very literally part of the commute. Both are interesting ways of looking at how existing infrastructure can be used to give people access to fresh food.
The potential for mobile food markets are seemingly endless, but Mark Lilly of Farm to Family asks us all to “Please help support every local entrepreneurial effort you may encounter in the state. We are all linked together — let’s put our best foot forward and make some sorely needed changes to our current toxic unsustainable national and global food system.”
Why go to the market when the market can come to you?
Top photo: the Buffalo Grown Mobile Marketplace.