Step inside a reconditioned city bus in Chicago this Thanksgiving, and you can buy cranberries and green beans where commuters once sat. The Fresh Moves mobile produce market– which inspired other pop-up grocery stores across the country– plans to reopen on the weekend of November 23, intent on proving to larger supermarkets that there’s a market for fresh produce in food deserts.
It hasn’t been an easy to get this far. Some critics have questioned whether having access to supermarkets is the real public health problem, citing studies that say even when new grocery stores are added to a neighborhood, people often still make unhealthy choices.
Fresh Moves, instead, brings food as close to someone’s front door as possible, as often as possible. With targeted stops at schools or other community centers, a few times over a day, the bus can bring a single-aisle produce department within reach of hundreds of people.
The organization chose to repurpose an old bus not just because it was mobile but because it could be used all year long, unlike a converted food truck used for a similar mobile grocery in Oakland, California.
The bus was also easy to get. Every 12 years or 250,000 miles, buses are retired, because the federal government will fund replacements at that point. So buses might sit unused on a lot, or be scrapped for parts. When they still run, they can be sold cheaply, or, in Fresh Moves’ case, donated.
Fresh Moves operates like a social enterprise, Casey says, but is registered as a nonprofit so that it can get donations like the buses and other philanthropic support. Since fruits and vegetables are low-margin items even for large grocery store chains, it would be challenging to run as a business alone. Even with some outside funding, the organization struggled to manage operations, and after parting ways with its executive director in August, decided to temporarily stop running to figure out a sustainable operating plan.
Posted by Lauren Harrity 12/06/13