*This is the third article in our three-part Inspiring Changemaker 2022 Series. These stories highlight the amazing work of our clients and their food security efforts to improve access to nutritious food.*
Many residents of Del Norte County in northwest California are more than 10 miles from the nearest supermarket. Most of the population is also a 60-minute drive from urban centers. Needless to say, access to nutritious food is difficult.
“I think it has been a new idea to a lot of people in this very rural and isolated community,” said former Family Resource Center of the Redwoods Food Program Director Amanda Hixson in an interview last summer. “One older woman who is retired and on a fixed income was thrilled to be able to access the mobile market produce and food programs for free. Generally, she makes just over where she could qualify for anything, so she said this helps a lot. She also wrote that the staff were really helpful and friendly.”
Creating a System of Healthy, Culturally Appropriate Food
The Pacific North Fresh Mobile Market is led by the Del Norte and Tribal Lands (DNATL) Food Council. The DNATL Food Council is housed within the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods (FRCR) non-profit and works closely with community, regional, and state partners.
The goal of the DNATL is to create a local food system with access to nutritious food, and culturally appropriate food for families in Del Norte County and adjacent Tribal Lands. Programs are organized around four primary efforts:
- ensuring food security
- growing the local food economy
- creating a prepared and resilient regional emergency food system
- shifting DNATL’s resident food culture towards healthy foods
All of these goals are challenging due to Del Norte’s remote location, low income, and other key factors.
“Pair these conditions with very few farms, limited public transportation, and many households’ lack of access to a car, and the result is numerous residents’ inability to obtain affordable, healthy food,” said Hixson. “This is indicated by the 15.8% county food insecurity rate, which is the 4th highest of California’s 58 counties.”
Collaboration Advanced Quickly With COVID-19
Action to address the food insecurity plight had been underway for several years with DNATL Food Council bringing together groups working on food security. This collaboration advanced quickly once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Del Norte Food Security Taskforce (DNFSTF) was created. This group is a collaborative of more than 20 municipal, Public Health, Department of Health and Human Services, institutions, tribes, non-profit, and faith-based organizations.
Following two key meetings, it was eventually decided the best course of action was to acquire funding for a mobile produce market program.
“Since we were already a recipient of Community Development Block Grant funding for our food pantry through the City of Crescent City, the city accountant reached out to me in April 2020 (about) specific COVID response funds we could potentially utilize,” said Hixson. “I brought the availability of these funds to the DNFSTF…We decided on a mobile market food pantry, and I submitted the application to the City accordingly.”
Access to Nutritious Food Through The Farmers’ Truck Model
This is where The Farmers’ Truck came into the picture to help improve access to nutritious food. Hixson said she had read an article about a food organization in New York that featured a photo of their mobile grocery store.
“I called and talked to the woman listed in the article at the organization. She recommended The Farmers’ Truck and put me in touch with (Farmers’ Truck CEO) Frederic (Laforge).”
The Pacific North Fresh Mobile Market truck arrived in March 2022 and became a hit with residents.
“People have been very excited about our mobile market pantry,” said Hixon. “At this point, all of our food programs from the truck are free. We do have some people that want access to the produce but do not need free food, and they make a donation to our organization.”
Hixson said it was ultimately decided to purchase the truck using other funding sources because if CDBG paid for the truck, it would continue as their asset indefinitely. She noted that various levels of government have been supportive of the mobile market program and this helped make the mobile market program possible.
“The CDBG City funding runs the mobile market, so the City Council was and is very supportive. The County Board of Supervisors is also supportive. One is actually letting us do a distribution at her business.”
Regular Distribution Schedule With Plans to Expand
The Pacific North Fresh Mobile Market distributes on Tuesdays with two stops in each outlying community. Produce comes from local farmers, and neighboring communities, and is purchased from a produce distributor that delivers to their independent market. Fruits and veggies are also donated from the nearest large-scale food bank.
“We carry many different kinds of produce in the market, especially focusing on what can be obtained locally and in-season,” said Hixson. “Root vegetables are the most popular, especially potatoes.”
In April 2022, which was the first month of operation for the mobile market, 181 households were served. That number jumped to 262 in May, and 248 in June. Hixon said 250 a month will probably be an average number, however, they plan to expand to other locations.
“It could be closer to 300 over time. Again, that is households, so the number of individuals would be greater.
“Right now we are just measuring the success of it in that it was a vision for many years that has become a reality,” she added. “Over time, we can emphasize how many pounds of produce are going into the community, how much money going to our local producers, and how many patrons are benefitting.”
Festive, Community-feel a Hit With Staff and Customers
Staff are happy to have a mobile market program to serve their community with improved access to nutritious food. Hixson added that the mobile market truck is inviting for customers.
“Our staff are really excited about the mobile market. It helps a lot that it looks so neat, with the wrap, which is a painting on the shipping container in our food forest from a local artist.”
Interacting with customers is the part many staff enjoy the most.
“It’s so exciting to be out in the community, interacting and providing the community with a one-stop shop for all our food programs,” added Tommy Contreras, Food Distribution Manager and Mobile Market Manager.
Priority Funding for Mobile Market Programs
Hixson said the sustainability of the mobile market program largely depends on funding at this time. She said funding for the mobile market vehicle would have been very challenging if not for the situation of ‘feast after famine’ that COVID created.
“The world of non-profit is a constant search for funding so that all of the great programs you created can keep going after the grant ends.”
She hopes that additional funding for mobile markets is a priority to launch more of these programs in America to help address food insecurity and improve access to nutritious food.
“I think it is a great way to get more access to nutritious food into the remote regions and food deserts across the continent.”