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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Fresh Moves mobile food market hits Chicago streets

Cassandra West

In urban communities known as “food deserts,” fresh, healthy produce is often nowhere to be found. Processed meats, sodas and chips, though, are available in abundance.

To improve nutrition and curb the consumption of too many empty calories, residents in food deserts need access to more fruits and vegetables. Now, there’s an option.

The Fresh Moves mobile market makes a stop at New Bethel Life Center. /Seeding Chicago photo

Fresh Moves, a mobile food market, has come to two Chicago neighborhoods — Austin and Lawndale. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the converted CTA bus pulls up to pre-designated locations offering all to climb aboard and load up on apples, cucumbers, bananas, collards, kale, mustard greens and more. Fresh Moves even stocks some organic items, at prices much more affordable than retail chains such as Whole Foods Markets, which are often located in more affluent communities.

Fresh Moves mobile market includes a driver and two retail assistants who are happy to hop off the bus and take orders from customers with mobility problems.

The idea for Fresh Moves sprang up three years ago, when food activists Steve Casey, Sheelah Muhammad and Jeff Pinzino, who all have backgrounds in philanthropy, decided it was time to do something about the lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in poor, economically isolated neighborhoods.

The three started the grass-roots organization, Food Desert Action and went about seeking support and funding. They got the Chicago Transit Authority to donate the bus for the price of $1. Architecture for Humanity rehabbed the bus. Chase Foundations donated some funds. Good City, a West Side organization that provides emerging entrepreneurs and community leaders with training and knowledge to implement innovative and necessary programs in the city’s underserved neighborhoods, became their fiscal agent. A Chicago nonprofit EPIC: Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives, INC. donated approximately $70,000 worth of creative and branding services, Casey says.

Shawn Jackson, principal of Spencer Technology Academy, a Chicago Public School in Austin, has gladly welcomed Fresh Moves to the neighborhood, and the mobile market visits his school on Thursday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

“This is a food desert here,” says Jackson, referring to the area around Spencer. “There are no healthy food options at all. I mean a grease pit. McDonald’s is the default food here. … This is what my [students] are exposed to.

“To run into something like Fresh Moves was a godsend. The fact that you have a group of individuals willing to do this was superb.”

Jackson says he believes good eating habits can start at school, if not at home. When Fresh Moves visited Spencer “last Thursday, every student purchased something," Jackson says. "We want kids at home saying, 'Hey, the Fresh Moves bus is coming.' ”