Mobile Market makes local food cheap, convenient

Alicia Lozano,

WASHINGTON – We all know eating seasonal, local food is healthier and better for the economy, but not everyone can afford trips to Whole Foods or the local farmers markets.

Now, a local initiative is offering sustainable produce at or below market prices, and bringing it to under-served neighborhoods via a retrofitted school bus.

On a muggy Wednesday afternoon, the 28-foot Mobile Market is parked in Northwest D.C.’s LeDroit Park near the communal garden, just off Elm and 3rd streets. Inside the school bus, which runs on bio-diesel, are three fully stocked coolers.

Outside, signs announce the typical farmer’s market mantras: “Buy fresh. Buy local.” But next to those are not so typical signs offering financial aid through federal assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and senior checks.

“The incentive is meant to help those folks who are on food stamps and … to be able to help them and encourage their families to eat fresh, local food,” says Bob Lazaro, community affairs executive at Inova Health System.

Inova is partnering with the Mobile Market, operated by Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, and will match food assistance funds dollar for dollar. So if a customer puts $10 on their SNAP card, they will get $20 worth of food.

“Fresh, local food is better for you as it holds its nutrition longer, it’s grown locally so it helps local farmers and it lasts longer than something that is trucked from {far away},” Lazaro says. “It’s similar bang for your dollar than anywhere else.”

But customers don’t need to be low income to shop at the Mobile Market. Anyone can purchase their seasonal fare, which currently includes apples, radishes, spinach, lettuce and even meat, poultry and dairy.

LeDroit Park resident Hal Copeland is excited about the new neighborhood staple. He grew up on a farm in upstate New York and misses eating locally.

“We always raised our own produce, chicken and things like that,” he says. “I love fresh vegetables, and I saw them out here and wanted to see what they had and they have some of my favorites.”

He is especially looking forward to cooking with the radishes, which he used to eat straight from the ground as a boy.

“All the greens look great,” he says. “That’s what made me want to come over.”

Like so many others, Copeland usually buys his food at grocery stores where prices are lower. He can’t afford to regularly visit farmers markets, and doesn’t want to spend the money on gas to check out farms in Virginia and Maryland.

But now he won’t have to worry about it.

“I look forward to coming out every Wednesday,” he says. “I’m going to try to gauge my shopping based on that.”

In addition to food, the Mobile Market also features nutritional information, recipes and cooking demonstrations. It’s location changes daily, so make sure to check the full schedule for its next stop:

  • Mondays 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center, 3500 MLK Jr. Avenue SE
  • Mondays 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. The Overlook at Oxon Run, 3700 9th Street SE
  • Mondays 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Anacostia Metro-Thurgood Marshall Academy, 2427 MLK Jr Avenue SE
  • Wednesdays 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. United Medical Center, 1310 Southern Avenue SE
  • Wednesdays 4 p.m. to 7p.m. Ledroit Park/Common Good City Farm, Corner of Elm Street and 3rd Street NW

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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