The Twin Cities Mobile Market is having so much success providing fresh fruit and vegetables in St. Paul that it is adding a second food truck to serve Minneapolis communities lacking healthful eating options.
“As long as there is a continued need and demand, we will continue growing,” said Leah Driscoll, Twin Cities Mobile Market program manager.
The mobile grocery store should be rolling in Minneapolis by the end of the year.
The market, started by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a social-service nonprofit organization, stops at 19 locations from Tuesday through Saturday. It aims to provide affordable and quality products to areas of St. Paul where it can be hard to find healthful groceries.
On the Mobile Market bus, customers browse the produce on the shelves and then unload their mini shopping cart at the back of the bus to pay. Shoppers can use cash, credit, debit or electronic benefit cards. The program kicked off in December and will continue to provide grocery-store quality items year-round.
Amber Cash, 33, of St. Paul, was on her way home to microwave some mozzarella sticks and onion rings on Wednesday when she opted to buy ingredients for a more healthful meal from the Mobile Market, which was parked outside the Ronald M. Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning on University Avenue in St. Paul.
Cash said oftentimes it’s hard to find quality produce at a corner store. At the Mobile Market stocked with milk, watermelons, avocados and raspberries, she said she was impressed with the quality.
“Maybe it will change people’s eating habits,” she said.
More than 5,000 customers have bought items from the market. If the bus doesn’t have an item a customer wants, employees can make a request for the customer and the item will appear on the shelves the following week. Generally, two employees and a volunteer help customers shop and check out.
The mobile grocery store has a group of regulars who stop by every week. Delia Elliot, 44, of Maplewood is one of those regulars.
“It’s convenient, especially when you are trying to eat healthy,” she said. “They need more of them around.”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market has reached its $20,000 goal on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to help with the costs of retrofitting a Metro Transit bus. A donor agreed to match the foundation’s Indiegogo goal to pay for the $40,000 retrofit. The new bus could include more refrigeration units and possibly a stove for cooking demonstrations.
Kristi Moua, a client-service specialist on the bus, said that at each stop about 30 to 40 customers board to shop. “We have a really good turnout,” she said.
The bus is restocked with produce from the Hmong American Farmers Association, Jerry’s Foods and the Shared Ground Farmers’ Cooperative.
The city of Minneapolis approved an ordinance in 2014 that allows mobile grocery stores to sell produce to customers. Under the ordinance, mobile food stores are required to provide 50 fresh fruit and vegetable items.
City Council Member Cam Gordon, who worked on the ordinance, said mobile markets will help combat health disparities caused by so-called food deserts — areas that lack major grocery stores.
“We have problems with obesity and diabetes that seem to impact certain parts of our city more than others,” he said. “I’m excited now to hear that Wilder is going to be expanding and operating in Minneapolis.”
In certain north and south Minneapolis census tracts, significant numbers of residents live more than a mile from a supermarket, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
Once the Mobile Market heads to Minneapolis, it will be the first mobile food store in the city.
Urban Ventures, a local faith-based nonprofit, has its own truck that it uses to transport produce for its pop-up farmers market in north and south Minneapolis. All of the produce is harvested and sold by the nonprofit. This year, the organization plans to expand its summertime market to a year-round operation.
There is more of a need for mobile food markets in low-income areas, said Mark-Peter Lundquist, vice president of outreach for Urban Ventures.
For Elliot, the Mobile Market is the difference between a bag of chips or a healthful snack, she said. On Wednesday, she chose to pay a visit to the Mobile Market.