FRESH looking at mobile market for food deserts

Program seeks to partner with area farmers

A mobile market is in the works for the FRESH Project in order to further the organization’s goal of giving everyone in Shawano County access to healthy foods.

A meeting between local food producers and officials with FRESH (Food, Resources, Education, Safety, Health) on Tuesday showed that the mobile market might be the best next step to bring together farmers and consumers in the area, with many of the almost 20 producers in attendance interested in providing food.

“Our goal is to get healthy food to everyone,” said Barbara Mendoza, executive director of the FRESH Project. “One of the challenges we have is that we have a lot of food insecurity in our rural areas.”

Food insecurity comes from being in an area where you have to travel more than 10 miles to get to a grocery store or food pantry, according to Mendoza. Currently, there are about 1,200 farms in Shawano County, but Mendoza noted that only 95 of them sell directly to local consumers. Also, only two out of three county communities have a grocery store.

“We have a lot of food deserts in Shawano County,” she said. “What’s challenging for us is that it’s so wide, and for us to travel from one end of the county to the other is challenging, as well.”

Even with access to grocery stores, the challenges smaller stores face is providing food at affordable prices and being able to generate fresh produce, according to Mendoza.

“If you’re not able to get to fresh produce, then a lot of times you have to go with canned stuff,” she said.

The mobile market would be a rented vehicle that travels regularly to the food deserts to sell meat and produce boxes to those in need. The market is a 13-week pilot program that the FRESH Project will test in 2019 to gauge interest and then potentially tweak in future years to efficiently reach people who don’t have easy access to fresh food.

That is where the local farmers come in, according to Mendoza.

“One of the reasons we’re here is to try to help you get local food to the consumers,” she said. “We’re very interested in producers and farmers who want to partner with us and provide us your goods at your price.”

Getting the food to consumers locally is not an easy task. Rick Adamski, who runs Full Circle Community Farm in southeastern Shawano County, noted that food is a commodity, and often that commodity is at the mercy of the consumers.

“A semi load of fresh greens can arrive to the consumer, and they can say, ‘This isn’t the quality that we agreed to,’” Adamski said. “You’re at the mercy of that buyer. No matter what you do, whether it’s finding another buyer or talking over price, you’re losing money.”

Adamski supported the idea of getting fresh food to consumers.

Lindsay Johnson, who operates Johnson Family Cattle in the town of Richmond, also supported the mobile market because it can bring consumers closer to the farms that produce their food.

“There are fewer and fewer people who have a direct connection to a farm,” Johnson said. “People don’t know how their food is raised, which is hard for me to believe, but it’s a reality. The FRESH Project has done a lot of educating, but is there something we can do to educate the general consumer about how food is grown?”