The Fresh Wagon, a truck that brings fresh produce from local farms to Gainesville residents, has returned after a three-week winter break due to difficulties with city ordinances.
Bruce Waite, executive director of the nonprofit Common Thread Alliance, said the city has done a fantastic job sorting out the issues. The problem, he said, was the lack of rules for an operation that is somewhere between a food truck and a regular farmers market.
“[The city] worked with us very closely,” Waite said. “This has been a community effort.”
Gainesville Public Information Officer Bob Woods confirmed Waite had applied successfully for the wagon’s certification.
Now, Waite said, he and others involved with the Fresh Wagon can continue their mission.
That mission is to connect people in low-income communities directly to local farmers, providing fresh produce and farm-baked goods at a low price with no middleman.
“We’re trying to bring the idea of a farmers market in close proximity to those who need it most,” Waite said.
The Fresh Wagon is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is the result of a collaboration between Waite’s Common Thread Alliance, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Survey Research Center.
The wagon now parks at four stops for around 90 minutes each on Fridays. Waite said between 20 and 30 transactions take place at a typical stop. He said there is a need for stop consistency, which would allow low-income residents to plan around the food’s weekly availability.
“Food insecurity is a real problem for a lot of people around here,” Waite said.
Some of the volunteers who assist Waite with the Fresh Wagon are workers from HealthStreet. According to the University of Florida Health website, HealthStreet is “a community engagement program at the University of Florida that improves the health of our community by bridging gaps in health care and health research.”
Brianna Aldridge, a community health worker for HealthStreet, first worked with Waite on the wagon in December. She said the wagon’s stops are an opportunity to connect the rest of Gainesville to HealthStreet. From HealthStreet, members of the community can get references to social and medical services and opportunities to participate in research.
“They’ve been gracious enough to let us work with them,” Aldridge said of the people behind the wagon. “Bruce has been a visionary.”
Waite said he was hesitant to accept the label.
“It’s not a new model at all,” Waite said. People over 40, he said, can remember when farmers’ products could move from neighborhood to neighborhood by way of a truck or mobile stand. The Fresh Wagon is just a revival of that old idea.
Waite thought it appropriate that this model should return in Gainesville.
“We’re a very close-knit community,” Waite said.