A mobile market of fresh local produce is bringing the farm fresh to families and seniors in Winnipeg inner-city neighbourhoods.
“Everybody wants what’s good for the people that they love. Everybody wants to be able to give fresh, healthy food to their kids,” said Stephanie Fulford, garden and food skills programmer at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre.
NorWest is a community partner with the Veggie Van, a pilot project by Fireweed Food Co-op.
The mobile farmers’ market visited the West End-Central Winnipeg, North Point Douglas and Inkster neighbourhoods weekly between August 19 and September 9. The van parked outside community hubs like NorWood and North Point Douglas Women’s Centre.
Families in these neighbourhoods would love to have fresh, local fruits and veggies but it’s hard to get markets established there, and residents can struggle with transportation to markets outside their area, said Asha Nelson, projects co-ordinator with Fireweed Food Co-op.
“Often the current income levels in those areas can’t really support a farmers’ market where the prices tend to be a bit higher, but that doesn’t mean that folks in those communities shouldn’t have access to highly nutritious, fresh local produce,” Nelson said.
Many young families and immigrant families live in the Inkster neighbourhood. While the neighbourhood is rich in connection and volunteerism, said Fulford, incomes are generally low and many struggle with their food budget or food insecurity in general.
The neighbourhood includes residential and industrial areas and is bisected by train tracks, which means that travelling by foot is tough. To top it off, the area lost one of its two grocery stores.
“We’re in general a little bit of a food desert in terms of access to grocery stores but for farmers’ markets, even more so,” Fulford said.
So far, community members have appreciated the convenience, price and quality of the food, she added.
At the moment, the van sells only fruits and vegetables, and they continue to study what produce are the favourites so they know what to stock up on next time — corn, apples and watermelon have been popular so far, said Nelson.
Through funding and donations, the van subsidizes the cost of the veggies to bring them down to conventional grocery store prices or lower, said Nelson. A few items are offered for free so no one leaves empty handed. There’s also a ‘pay it forward’ program so those with more means can help pay for neighbours’ groceries.
This seemed like a good way to bring food to these neighbourhoods in a dignified fashion while also providing farmers with a reliable source of income, Nelson said.
Fireweed hopes to run the van all summer next year.