Sure you’ve seen food trucks on tv, online, or even downtown, but have you ever seen a farmers’ market on wheels? What makes mobile farmers’ markets different from food trucks, or even your typical farmer’s market or stand?
Mobile markets stand out because of the profound impact they have on the people and the communities they serve.
Mobile farmers’ markets, also known as mobile market trucks, mobile pantries, and more are rolling across the US. Unlike food trucks, they don’t serve up deep-fried foods or the latest food craze.
Instead, they’re just like their name implies: a farmers’ market on wheels. But unlike a traditional farmers’ market or stand, mobile markets can go exactly where they’re needed the most.
Providing fresh, healthy food directly to food desert1 communities is their goal.
Mobile markets make an economic impact by providing local producers with more retail outlets. They celebrate traditions by inspiring a culture of healthy cooking from scratch. And they’re a cost-effective way to increase fresh food access for people with the greatest need.
How Does a Mobile Farmers’ Market Work?
Most mobile farmers’ markets have both employees and volunteers. It takes a lot of hard work to run a successful mobile market, so having a good team is a must.
Some mobile markets offer only fruits and vegetables, like the YMCA Veggie Van.2 Others also offer dried staples and frozen meats.
Like The Farmers’ Truck, many mobile markets go one step further. They provide nutrition education through cooking demonstrations, marketing campaigns, and recipe sharing. The Fresh Truck3 in Boston is a great example.
Fresh Truck has partnered with healthcare providers to create a Vegetable Prescription Program4 that’s administered in the form of gift cards. The gift cards can then be used at their mobile market truck to buy healthy food items.
Mobile market business models are as diverse as the weather in the Upper Midwest. They can be for-profit, non-profit, or a combination of the two.
For example, Fresh Truck’s revenue comes from its food sales, corporate & individual donors, and foundations.
A “social enterprise” is a sustainable model for a lot of organizations looking to operate a mobile farmers’ market. Social enterprises work because they’re able to generate revenue. Then they use that revenue to benefit the community through social programs.
As you can see, there’s no cookie-cutter model for mobile markets. Ultimately, you get to choose what type of model best suits your organization’s mission, and the needs of your community.
Find the Right Locations to Maximize Your Impact and Reach
Figuring out your route and where to set up shop for the day takes a bit of planning. It also means taking several factors into account so you can make the most of your efforts.
A great place to start is by using the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Access Research Atlas.5
It’s an interactive map where you can check out which counties in your area have the lowest food access. It takes into account income, the nearest supermarket, and access to transportation by using census data.
Some mobile markets like Virtua’s Eat Well6 Mobile Farmers’ Market in New Jersey also consider poverty rates, the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users, and obesity rates when planning their stops.
Once you’ve picked the locations with the greatest need, promotion and consistency are key. Promote your mobile market and what you’re all about. Let people know when and where you’re going to be. And make sure you offer a full stock of the items that people are coming to you for.
By bringing fresh ingredients to targeted areas, residents can go from surviving to thriving.
A Mobile Markets’ Effect on Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Community
Food deserts are a challenge in both urban and rural areas where fast food and convenience stores are plentiful. This leads to a false impression about food access. One where people are left with little choice but to consume empty calories.
Meanwhile, grocery stores and farmers’ markets tend to be miles away, meaning some sort of transportation is needed.
According to the USDA, low-income households are more often in poorly designed and underserved areas. 4% of US households are at least half a mile from a store and without a vehicle.7
Tackling the Obesity Epidemic
The lack of access to healthy food and the abundance of convenient fast food is a big contributor to the obesity epidemic8 in America. In the U.S. 1 in 5 children and 1 in 3 adults are obese.
Fast food is just that – fast, convenient, and cheap. The instant reward of a juicy cheeseburger without the prep work or dirty dishes is usually enough to overlook the real cost of the foods we eat.
That $1 cheeseburger might seem like a good idea in the moment. But most people don’t think about the $1.7 trillion9 in lost productivity and healthcare costs because of obesity and excess weight.
Fortunately, mobile farmers’ markets are a part of the solution. Offering a cost-effective way to bridge the gap in food deserts and delivering fresh, healthy food at affordable prices.
Food sold at mobile markets is usually competitively priced. With an average markup of only 30%, customers get a good deal on fresh food that also feels great on their wallets. Not only is it good for our wallets and our bodies, it also helps the economy and the healthcare system too.
How Mobile Markets Help Your Local Economy & Support Your Community
As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. When individuals thrive, whole communities also thrive. Vibrant communities are a result of a strong economy, people, and social ties.
Consumers are empowered when they have the ability to buy fresh, local healthy food. And they can take pride knowing that much of their dollar will go back into their community.
The impact of this dollar changes depending on the model of the mobile market. But research suggests that “on average, 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores”.10
That number goes up when mobile farmers’ markets include local sourcing as a strategy.
The challenge is that not everyone has an equal opportunity to support their local economy in the same way. According to Feeding America, 1 in 8 Americans lacks the financial resources to buy basic food staples.11
Thankfully, there are programs designed to assist food-insecure Americans with accessing fresh, affordable produce, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).12
SNAP participants get double their dollars through state Incentive Programs to buy fruits and veggies. This makes it a lot easier for people to choose healthy & local over-processed food from a chain store or restaurant. It’s a win-win for everyone!
The Mobile Market Effect: A Lasting and Positive Impact
Some of the best memories are created around a table, surrounded by friends and family. A mobile farmers’ market is more than a grocery store. They’re a celebration of our stories, our heritage, and the traditions that bring us back to our roots.
The smell of chili on the stove, or the juice of a perfectly ripe peach running down your chin after you take a bite. These are things to celebrate and share. Healthy, accessible, and nutritious food is a basic right. Mobile markets are making this happen by setting a table where everyone’s welcome.
The impact that a mobile farmers’ market can have in your community is real. It’s a sustainable and important part of a holistic approach to increasing food access. One in which you boost the local economy, improve people’s health, and strengthen your community.
If you’re considering operating a mobile farmers’ market in your area, please contact us here. We give you the tools and knowledge you need to run a sustainable mobile market designed around your needs.