Mobile farmers’ markets are more than just a place to get fresh produce. Visiting a mobile market is like attending a fun activity or event. It’s a place where you meet friends and walk away with healthy food. And you also end up with a sense of community and belonging.
So how does a mobile farmers’ market achieve this festive community feel? Keep reading to find out!
Location is key
Mobile farmers’ markets, also referred to as mobile produce markets or mobile food pantries, are convenient. The phrase “location, location, location” is one of the most common sayings in business. What makes mobile farmers’ markets successful is they are located where the community needs it most.
Julie LaFontaine is President and CEO of The Open Door in Massachusetts. She said transportation to a brick-and-mortar food pantry can be a barrier to access. The Open Door mobile farmers’ market solves this problem by being where people already are.
“We envisioned something that would go to where people were,” she said. “So, instead of having 100 cars drive to a food pantry, we can take one truck and go into a neighborhood. Really, what we’ve been able to do is make another way, and better way, to break down barriers and connect people to the healthiest kind of food.”
Customer-focused and educational
Mobile farmers’ markets are customer-focused. It’s not just about offering good food, but also providing information about how to best enjoy that food! This includes recipes and cooking demonstrations.
“We have a section with educational resources like recipe cards, nutritional hand-outs, info about local programs, food bank emergency food distributions, and sometimes we have food demos,” said Heather Lyon, Program coordinator of the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program.
“It’s a job requirement that you’ve got to love to talk about veggies,” adds Jess Soulis, Director of the GoFarm Community Food Access Program in Colorado.
“If something is unfamiliar, we want to be able to have folks feel like they can buy it and try it. So whether that’s sharing recipes, nutritional info, and lots of folks in line who are like, ‘oh, I tried that last week and my kids really liked it this way’. So, it’s creating a culture of sharing and about exciting ways to enjoy this great food.”
Deep roots in the community
Mobile farmers’ markets thrive through feedback. By being in constant communication with customers, mobile market operators learn what food the community wants and needs most.
“Most of the good information just comes from conversations with people,” said Lyon. “It’s just that kind of feeling around the truck – people stop and they chat with each other, they chat with our community food ambassadors. We just ask people anytime we have a chance, ‘What do you want to see on the truck?”
The West Sacramento Urban Farm Program’s community ambassador program provides a good example of connecting with the community. This program teaches participants about food literacy, food systems, and nutrition education. Participants do community outreach and three people from the 2022 program joined the mobile farmers’ market as assistants.
“They became essential members of the team and really important allies and conduits with the local community,” said Lyon.
Culturally relevant food
Mobile farmers’ markets feature culturally relevant food. The community determines what food fits their needs and mobile market operators reflect that with their food.
“We have a huge Afghan community…so we’ve worked with them to identify specific produce items that they want to see on our truck, and then we’re working with our farmers to grow those items,” noted Lyon.
Tamara Dawson is Director of Programs for The Campaign Against Hunger in New York. She said having culturally relevant food, along with common staples, is a big draw.
“Having fresh produce and culturally appropriate produce, at a fraction of the cost, is a big plus,” said Dawson.
“With our mobile market, it’s a walk-up model. So you have the same choices and it allows 24 different selections within our set-up…Essentially, they have the same basic fundamentals, and it’s there for the client and they can still walk away with the same level of dignity and appreciation for the product.”
Food with dignity
Mobile farmers’ markets offer food in a dignified way. Mobile markets curb the stigma that is sometimes attached with going to a food bank.
“In a given week, we have at least 400 families who come through and utilize our mobile pantry,” said Sarah Nordwick, CEO of the Community Food Bank of San Benito County in California. “It’s been instrumental in decreasing the stigma of using a food bank. As we all know, it’s hard to ask for help or accept help, but being at this vehicle is pretty cool and it looks different.”
Nordwick says mobile markets gain a positive reputation as a fun and festive attraction.
“We also take it into our parades and health fairs and try to get kids okay with it so that way they see it and it’s just ‘oh it’s our mobile pantry’, instead of ‘oh, I don’t want to see the food bank coming and I don’t want people to see me’. So, it goes into our mission of providing dignity to our families and it’s obviously totally broken down the barrier to food access and being able to offer healthy food.”
Festive and inclusive feel
Mobile farmers’ markets are festive in nature. Because mobile market have such a fun, inclusive, and exciting community feel, it attracts regular customers and new clients. This translates into more people accessing healthy food.
“We strive to create markets that are welcoming and inclusive, as well as fun,” said Soulis. “We’ve been known to put on the carrot and pea costumes and not just on Halloween. We love to play with kids, chat with our regular customers, and welcome folks who are new to our markets.
It’s all about impact
All of these factors contribute to food accessibility and the 5 As. When the 5 As are covered, mobile farmer’s markets impact communities in a positive way.
Soulis said customers love the connections made, just as much as the convenience, prices, and food from mobile farmers’ markets.
“You can measure impact in many different ways, but some of our folks are saying it’s the connections that are happening – and to me, that is a really important impact,” said Soulis.
“Customers becoming friends, us having really cool engagements with our customers, and then the farmers really appreciate being able to reach community members that they might not otherwise be able to meet. And the customers love to be a part of the local food system and support those local farmers.”
To learn more about how mobile farmers’ markets are changing healthy food access, check out our recent webinar on YouTube.