Do Mobile Food Markets Increase Urban Food Access?

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Can expanding the value of SNAP assistance and implementing a mobile farmers market have an appreciable effect on urban inner city communities? Two metro areas are trying to find out. Camden, NJ and Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri have implemented programs to match the value of SNAP assistance as well as using mobile fresh food markets to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to inner city neighborhoods that otherwise are isolated in food deserts. Both locations have teamed up with foundations, nonprofits, and government agencies as well as a solid Food Access organization to create this opportunity. Is this a sustainabile model? Both cities depend on philanthropy and/or government funds for these pilot programs. A sustainable business model for community development may need to enter the equation to keep these programs going.


Camden, NJ

Camden is a highly impoverished and crime-ridden city located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, PA. Camden is a tough city, though it is filled with resilient people and a fast-changing demographic that is seeing neighborhoods shift from African-American to Hispanic. There is only one chain retail grocery store in Camden, located on the outer southern edge of the city. Inside the city there are corner stores, convenience marts, dollar stores, and CVS that provide food to the 75,000 people in the city, many of whom rely on public transit to get around. Across the river (5 minutes by subway) is downtown Philadelphia, home to the Reading Marketplace (a 7 day a week indoor vendor market with fresh foods), Whole Foods Store on South Street (a community partnership store), and the Italian Marketplace – with a 100+ years of fresh produce sales to the trade and to the public. Yet, Philadelphia may as well be on the moon as Camden residents do not travel there for food.

The latest response to bring fresh food to Camden is a mobile farmer market via the Greensgrow Farms. Greensgrow is a very successful social enterprise that has a nonprofit Philadelphia Project and a for-profit nursery and farm. Greensgrow serves the urban neighborhoods of Philadelphia with fresh food, SNAP benefits (matching funds to make food stamp dollars go farther), and sustainable growing practices for food and ornamentals that produce jobs. The Greensgrow Mobile Market started in summer 2011 with 4 stops in Camden, including the Rutgers University campus which sits in the center of Camden’s downtown waterfront neighborhood. Greensgrow is offering up a selection of traditional summer fruits and vegetables as well as produce familiar to Hispanic families such as Jicama and peppers.

The Greensgrow effort complements the existing summer farmer market program that has 3 locations in Camden, each open one day a week that have been supported by a Greensgrow partner – AHEC The Area Health Education Center. The state of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs provided a $100,000 grant to get the mobile market going.

Greensgrow is using this summer program as a pilot to determine if their brand of farming, growing, and business would be a good fit for Camden. Their farming strategy includes raised beds (perfect for the brownfield vacant lots in Camden) and encouraging local residents to embrace the farmed land and gardens as part of the community. Camden already has a wealth of experience with small neighborhood gardens and backyard gardens with hundreds created over the years thanks to a cultivation program organized by The Children’s Garden. The Greensgrow approach to urban farming may well be a good fit for Camden.


Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri

There are two places named Kansas City – one in Kansas is the smaller city, and the other in Missouri is the larger metro anchor. Each has its share of poverty and low income people in their inner-city neighborhoods. Cultivate KC – a strong, nonprofit, food access organization has teamed up with the Menorah Foundation and other philanthropic partners to create a SNAP benefit program for farmers markets as well as a mobile program to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to these neighborhoods. Beans & Greens is a pilot program that provides a 2:1 match for SNAP funds spent at one of their 6 participating partner farmer markets or in the 3 neighborhoods served by the mobile market. The mobile program gets to each neighborhood once per week. It includes fruits and vegetables that are of particular interest to Hispanic families. Upwards of 15-20% of the population in the main urban counties in the Kansas City metro on both sides of the state line is receiving SNAP assistance from the Federal government.

Beans & Greens also seeks to expand its impact by supporting community gardens in more urban neighborhoods and assist those neighborhoods in growing their way to fresh food access. The urban neighborhoods in Kansas City are considered urban food deserts. While there are supermarkets and chain grocery stores available in the urban core, they are often clustered at the edges of the core and few if any are found in the center which would be more accessible to residents, especially those dependent on public transit. Corner stores, convenience marts, CVS and Walgreens, and ethnic markets are available, but often have limited selection (if any) of fresh produce and costs are sometimes high.

The Beans & Greens SNAP match is an innovative way of creating a financial incentive for families to eat healthy foods.


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