For a lot of communities across the United States, figuring out how to make healthy food more accessible can be a challenge. You’d think that getting any new sort of food retailer into your community is a win but think again.
Several studies suggest that the types of food retailers in a community can have a big impact on the consumption of healthy foods.1 This is especially true in lower-income neighborhoods where access to fresh fruit and vegetables is very low.
Some studies measured the intake of fruits and vegetables in areas with new mobile produce’ markets, farmers’ markets, and grocery stores.
In some cases, communities with new supermarkets had decreased fruit and vegetable consumption.1 On the flip side, mobile produce markets were shown to increase fruit and veggie consumption.2
Not that we’re bragging or anything! But we knew we were onto something great. Let’s see why mobile markets have such a positive effect on the communities they serve.
The Five Dimensions of Food Access
To understand how mobile farmers’ markets affect food access, first, let’s take a look at the idea of food access itself.
When we talk about food deserts and access to nutritious foods, that can mean a lot of different things.
Sometimes we think of access in terms of the physical distance needed to travel to find nutrient-dense foods. And, sometimes access refers to affordability. This is especially true in lower-income neighborhoods.
But, one way of explaining food access is by using the five “A’s” or dimensions of food access model.3 The five “A’s” are:
Accessibility refers to the physical access to food. Is healthy food close enough for a person to get to? And do they have a safe, affordable, and reliable means of transportation to get to it?4
Availability means the number of healthy food sources/retailers near where someone lives, works, and plays. It also takes into account the number of healthy food options that are available at these retailers.4
Ok, so that’s great if you have a variety of healthy food options that you can get to.
But the next point begs the question of whether or not you can afford those fruits and veggies. Health-promoting food options must be readily available throughout the year and be affordable for the population being served.4
Accommodation refers to the convenience of store hours and forms of payments accepted. A food retailer that doesn’t accept SNAP/EBT wouldn’t be accommodating for people who depend on those benefits.5
Acceptability refers to the quality and types of food being sold and whether people want to buy and eat it. Is it culturally appropriate and regularly consumed by local residents?5
Collectively, the five “A’s” give us a good measure of overall food access in a community.
So, How Exactly Do Mobile Farmers’ Markets Make Healthy Food More Accessible?
Mobile farmers’ markets are shown to have a consistent and positive effect on the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
In fact, they increased consumption more than their counterparts, the farmers’ market, and retail supermarkets.6 This is partly because they tend to be more adaptable and flexible to the needs of the community.
The very nature of a mobile produce market affects access and availability. Making healthy food more affordable and accessible for everyone is, after all, what mobile markets are all about.
People report that they have more access to fruits and vegetables near their home or work when a mobile market opens, compared to when a farmers’ market or supermarket opens.
Why? Because mobile markets can change locations. They target food deserts directly, making it easier for more people to get healthy food in the first place. If people can’t get to the store, bring the store to them.
Mobile farmers’ markets are also more affordable than other food retailers. A lot of mobile markets sell their produce at reduced prices or below the local retail value. The savings are even more noticeable for food assistance customers.
Often produce sold at mobile markets is organic which as we know, is usually more expensive. A study in Massachusetts found that the organic produce sold at one of their mobile markets was 44% cheaper for food assistance customers than at grocery stores.7
In another model, the mobile market truck sold food boxes on a sliding scale. This reduced the price by a considerable amount for low-income families. They could choose to pay between $8 to $12 for a box with a market value of $18 to $24.
The sliding scale means that families that can afford more can pay more to cover the costs for another family. It’s also one way to address financial barriers to food access while maintaining a sustainable business operation.
Mobile Farmers’ Markets Are Community-Based and Community-Driven
Mobile farmers’ markets are more accommodating because they’re more in tune with the communities they serve. Most mobile markets are, after all, operated by community-based organizations. Their main goal is not profits, but rather being part of a holistic approach to food access.
Accepting SNAP/EBT payments is a big part of what sets mobile markets apart from a lot of other food retailers. Offering a 2-for-1 discount for SNAP users is also a huge bonus and an idea that makes perfect sense. It’s a great way to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables.
As we mentioned earlier, location is also key. You have to be able to make it convenient for people in need to buy healthy food. Finding a central location that’s handy for a large number of people is important.
The challenge is picking the right location at the right time of day.
A mobile food market that’s near someone’s house while they’re at work isn’t very accommodating or accessible. This is when partnering with other community organizations to maximize your reach comes in handy.
Giving People the Freedom of Choice and Quality
A lot of mobile markets are operated by, or work closely with local urban and rural farms. They’re able to sell the produce grown at those farms, providing residents with super healthy, locally-grown, organic produce.
The farmers have a direct connection with their consumers through the mobile markets. Mobile market operators ask their customers what they want to see available to buy. Because of this, they provide high-quality foods that people actually want to eat.
This approach means high customer satisfaction with the quality and types of goods available. The “Live Well, Viva Bien” team found that 97% of customers were more than satisfied with the quality of the produce available at their mobile farmers’ market.
Think of the smell and juiciness of a fresh-picked strawberry compared to one that you bought at a supermarket, that’s traveled thousands of miles. There’s just no comparison.
That’s the difference that a mobile produce market can make. Doesn’t everyone deserve those simple pleasures?
Mobile Produce Markets Are Better Than Other Food Retailers
One of the reasons that mobile markets and farmers’ markets do better in increasing healthy eating habits is that they sell more nutrient-dense foods.
On the other hand, supermarkets have more readily available pre-packaged, processed food options. This cheap junk food is just that. It’s food that’s high in empty calories with little nutrients.
Most grocery stores do very little to make produce more affordable. Instead, because they’re focused on profits, they try to focus people’s attention on packaged foods.6 This approach doesn’t do much to help with the five dimensions of food access.
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A Holistic Approach to Removing Barriers to Food Access. Are You In?
Figuring out how to make healthy food more accessible takes a holistic approach. Factoring in the five “A’s” that we talked about in this article is valuable information to have when developing programs to target food access.
A mobile farmers’ market can help you make gains in all five dimensions of food access.
Mobile markets in the form of trucks, buses, and trailers can suit the needs of any food desert community. Studies show us the benefits of mobile produce markets, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.
Let’s make buying fruits and vegetables an easy option for everyone. Being healthy shouldn’t mean making sacrifices.
Do you think a mobile farmers’ market could help your community? We’d love to hear what you think.