Fresh Truck, a new Boston-based social business, is about to launch an initiative to bring healthy food to local neighborhoods that currently lack such access. Fresh Truck has retrofitted an eco-friendly school bus and will stock it daily with a selection of fresh produce, whole grains, and other healthy food options.
The initiative will start with a pilot in Charlestown, Mass., where co-founder and chief marketing officer Josh Trautwein has worked at the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute for the past year. “We’re working with housing developments, community centers and grassroots groups,” Trautwein told me. “We’re not doing a thing without community buy-in.”
Once they’ve had a chance to test operations at a small-scale, Fresh Truck plans to expand to other neighborhoods. They intend to serve a broad range of demographics and communities. “Our core mission is to improve community health in areas not well served by supermarkets, “ Trautwein said. “It’s about equal access to healthy food.”
Food will be sold at a 20 percent discount over supermarket prices. Although it has a social mission, Fresh Truck is incorporated as a for-profit Benefit Corporation, not a non-profit. It seeks to be a self-sustaining operation that doesn’t rely on grants or subsidies.
“We can achieve economy of scale by serving seven communities at one time,” according to Trautwein. “We’re operating on a lower margin and with lower costs than traditional brick-and-mortar stores.”
Initially, produce will be purchased at the Chelsea Produce Market, the enormous wholesale market in Chelsea, Mass., but once it scales up, Fresh Truck plans to source local products from local farms. However, Fresh Truck will always offer some products that are not local, such as bananas or other tropical fruit. “We want to provide healthy foods that are part of people’s diets, even if they’re not grown locally,” Trautwein stated.
A growing number of mobile healthy grocery trucks are already in operation in cities such as Chicago and Washington, DC. Food justice activist Tonya Fields is raising funds to launch a mobile food market in the South Bronx. And there’s already a mobile food market in the Boston area, although it’s operating on a limited basis here. Enterprise Farm, an organic farm in Whately, Massachusetts brings its Mobile Market Bus to Somerville, Mass. twice a week in the summer, where it sells produce at up to 50 percent off their retail prices. Since the Enterprise Market only serves one community in Boston (it also operates in Springfield, Massachusetts), however, there’s still plenty of room in the Boston market for another healthy food truck.
From community gardens, urban agriculture, gleaning, and food banks, many people in the good food movement are seeking out new ways to make healthy local food accessible to all, and Fresh Truck is a welcome addition. I just wish that they wouldn’t use the term “food desert” on their website.
Currently, their site states, “A food desert is a neighborhood where fresh, healthy food is difficult to obtain.” The term “food desert” has become a shorthand way to describe urban areas with a preponderance of fast food and a lack of supermarkets. The word “desert” is generally used to suggest a place that is wild, uninhabited, and foreboding—not exactly a word that you would want people to use to describe your neighborhood.
Instead of using this offensive term, I encourage Fresh Truck to stick with their other statement: “Fresh Truck services communities with the least access to healthy food options.”
Now that’s the world I want to live in.