Gainesville residents might have already spotted the 18-foot Fresh Food Wagon making its rounds through local neighborhoods.
With nine stops across Gainesville and a whole lot of researchers, the mobile market is part of an ongoing study at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Data are being collected for the Family Nutrition Program at the University of Florida as the mobile market makes its rounds, and the research is meant to find out whether such a program is feasible for Gainesville and other Florida communities.
Within Gainesville’s city limits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes 11 food deserts, low-income areas in which a substantial number of residents have limited access to a supermarket.
About eight months ago, before the mobile market made its first trip on April 1, researchers with IFAS knocked on doors in neighborhoods within food deserts, such as Holly Heights, and asked if residents would buy produce from a mobile food market.
Positive feedback led to a partnership between IFAS and Common Thread Alliance, a non-profit organization in Gainesville that connects farmers with potential customers.
IFAS is calling its project a mobile food market, but Common Thread Executive Director Bruce Waite knows it as Fresh Food Wagon.
As a food-desert researcher himself, Waite said he wants to make more food available for people who want it.
“If people can’t get fresh food and they want fresh food, they need to find fresh food,” he said.
Waite said the term “food desert” isn’t the only way to categorize an area in which people have difficulty getting food. There are also people who are considered “food insecure,” meaning they either can’t afford the food or they don’t have a way to travel to it (the combination of both is a food desert).
“You could live right next to a full-service supermarket,” he said, “but if you can’t afford to shop there, you are food insecure. … From a social description, food insecurity is very simplistically people, for either economic reasons or proximity reasons, [who] simply can’t get enough nutritious food.”
The mobile market is set to make its last trip, to the city of Hawthorne’s community market, on April 30 (the full schedule is available online). Regardless of whether IFAS decides to fund a long-term mobile market, Waite said he will continue using the Fresh Food Wagon to help get fresh food to needy areas.
The mobile market visited two locations on the program’s first day: Oak Park, a public housing facility, and the Eastwood Meadows Community. Linda Lazzari, who lives near Oak Park and was shopping at the mobile market with her mom on April 1, said she was excited to see the produce.
Lazzari’s mother relies on her daughter to get to the grocery store, so if Lazzari cannot get groceries, neither can her mom.
“Just because the way my knees are and my legs, the walking is kind of hard,” she said. “The grocery store is nearby, but still, when you have a disability, something like [the mobile market] is amazing.”
With each stop, residents were asking when the mobile market would be back, but Waite informed people it’s a pilot program and that its future is uncertain.