The Jamestown Public and Mobile Market recently received a $35,000 grant from the national Cummins Foundation.
The Rev. Luke Fodor, a member of the board of directors, said the Jamestown Mobile Market provides fresh, healthy produce to neighborhoods that lack local grocery stores and produce stands.
Throughout the city, there are poor communities where residents do not have fresh local produce within a mile of their residence. According to the Mobile Market, a “low-food access area” describes an area where over 30% of residents live more than a mile from a grocery store, farmer’s market or fresh produce provider.
“These little food desserts we have are actually not natural,” Fodor said. “That’s considered a food apartheid region.”
For the past couple of years, the Mobile Market has used a donated car and trailer to take food into the low-food access areas in the Jamestown community. After successfully operating in the region, the Mobile Market applied for a grant from the Cummins Foundation, which provided the necessary financial resources to purchase a decommissioned Penske box truck.
“The national Cummins Foundation decided that they were very interested in working with kind of the next model for community development around food and food insecurity,” Fodor said. “Cummins was clear they wanted to think differently about the food system and how we could better resource our community.”
Fodor explained that food pantries became popular in the 1970s when the United States experienced high inflation and communities were concerned about people’s ability to sustain themselves. Despite food pantries originally being designed as a temporary solution, Fodor said the food pantry model has remained popular in communities over the years.
However, unlike the traditional food pantry format, Jamestown’s Mobile Market offers residents the ability to choose their own produce options at various locations across the city on certain days each week. Throughout the summer, the Mobile Market’s new box truck has delivered vegetables to people in places that normally would not provide fresh produce.
“Instead of it being donated commodities, which is often how food kitchens work, this is kind of a more customer-focused interface,” Fodor said. “We get local vegetables from local farmers, and we sell them directly to people so they can pick what they want. I think it really gives people dignity as they go out and can use the resources that are available to them.”
The Cummins Foundation expressed interest in the Mobile Market’s food model, providing the funding the organization needed to expand its program by purchasing a larger vehicle that can hold more produce.
To incentivize people to eat more vegetables, Fodor said the Mobile Market often sells the produce below the average market rate. In addition to offering the product at an affordable price point, the Mobile Market works in conjunction with other assistance programs. For example, the Chautauqua Center has a “Veggie Rx” program supported by the Mobile Market.
“They have a deal with us where they write the prescription, they tell us who the person is, and that person can come to the market and pick up free vegetables,” Fodor said. “It’s really an amazing way of impacting the community.”
The Mobile Market also accepts SNAP benefits, allowing residents to use their food assistance benefits to buy fresh vegetables. Additionally, the Mobile Market partners with the Field and Fork Foundation from Buffalo to provide a double-up program that allows community members to double their allotted SNAP benefits.
The Mobile Market partners with two local farmers to supply the produce, boosting the local economy and annually expanding the farmers’ growing capacity due to the Mobile Market’s business.
Jamestown’s Mobile Market has also contracted with Chautauqua County’s Office for the Aging to provide fresh vegetables for seniors.
“We’re excited about that partnership,” Fodor said. “The Office for the Aging has contracted with us because we have this truck now to drive to various senior living facilities even outside of Jamestown.”