Mobile market brings produce to Meadville

A new pilot program known as the Mobile Market is taking off in downtown Meadville.

The program is spearheaded by Director of the Community Wellness Initiative and the Carrden Kerstin Martin. This Wednesday marked the fourth week since the Carrden Market moved to Holland Towers, a senior living community in downtown Meadville.

Americorp Vista at Women’s Services Brynya Bowden, ’15, has done work analyzing surveys completed by community members on the subject of food security in Meadville. These surveys revealed a community interest in having local food be readily available to community members, specifically in low-income neighborhoods. The market was relocated to Holland Towers after residents in the Towers also expressed interest in the idea.

The Holland Towers consists of 150 subsidized apartment units.

“For many individuals, it is difficult to get to grocery stores that have produce that looks good or is reasonably priced,” Bowden said.

For many low-income individuals, finding places to buy food that is healthy and affordable can be a challenge, but the market has found ways to help in that area by accepting alternate forms of payment for food.

“By having the Carrden Market downtown, we are able to accept food vouchers so the elderly are able to get through the state, and we can now accept SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]  so that we are really available for everybody,” Bowden said.

Despite the fact that Electronic Benefits Transfer is allowed at the Holland Towers, there are steps to be taken before it can be assumed that the Mobile Market at large will be able to accept this form of payment, according to Wellness Program Coordinator Taylor Hinton, ’14.

“The goal is that EBT would be allowed at all of the markets. It is a little logistically complicated because you need someone who is certified, and figuring out who will do that gets complicated,” Hinton said.

The mobile market is in its beginning stage at Holland Towers selling primarily Carrden-grown produce with the specific goal of determining if there is a community need for the kind of service being offered.

Martin was hired in 2013 to run the Carrden Market because the garden was producing a surplus of produce. Now that Martin and her team have found that the community wants local food, they can use the surplus to give the community what they want, and where Holland Towers residents live specifically.

“The Carrden was designed and built as an experimental idea, but also [as] a productive space. It is exciting to see it being used in different ways on campus and in the community, and how students will be involved in that,” Martin said.

As the director of the Community Wellness Initiative, Martin has been working with and talking to farmers, residents and community members.

“The goal of the project is to increase access to fresh food for the sake of wellness, and finding how we can make fresh food more available to people,” said Martin.

Bowden and Martin have been working with the Crawford Area Transit Authority to see if community members can be taken to community gardens, or have a vehicle designated to take local food to different areas in the community, making whole food more accessible.

“There is no route planned out,” Bowden said. “It is currently focused in Meadville and the Crawford County area, targeted to lower-income individuals and lower-income neighborhoods.”

The team wants to make whole foods accessible to everyone, not just to those who already have the means, financial or transportative.

According to Martin, once the project starts taking off, the team will want to sell a variety of products dependent on the strengths of farmers and the supply needed in order to sustain the community.

“There’s opportunity here. Trying to open markets so farmers can sell their products and making it accessible to the community,” Hinton said.

Because many of the initiatives the team plans to enact are still in the works, much of the future of the Mobile Market remains unknown. The team plans to assess the current strategy for bringing food to the community.

“We certainly hope that it will be a sustainable and a permanent fixture in the community,” Bowden said.

The Mobile Market is not the only pilot project being worked on by Martin and her team. The team plans to put together an online site on which farmers can upload what they have and purchasers can buy online, create a brand for farmers to use to show that their produce is locally-grown, and purchase an industrial freezer that meat farmers can use for storage.

While the team has managed to collect information and provide an initial push toward a more accessible community market, Martin is currently going through the process of hiring a food hub coordinator who will oversee much of the work related to making local food available to be bought online, and creating a network of farmers and community members to provide a sustainable environment for both.

“I think it’s about strengthening our community, giving farmers a sustainable lifestyle, giving people healthy food and keeping money in the community,” Hinton said.