Urban neighbourhoods with limited access to fresh food are so common they have a special name: “food deserts”. One way cities try to address the problem is by persuading convenience stores to carry fresh produce and healthy snacks. Toronto has come up with a scheme that harks back to the days when entrepreneurs used to drive trucks around city neighbourhoods, bringing food, and a lot of other goods, to the people.
The Mobile Good Food Market is a partnership among the Toronto Food Strategy (Public Health), United Way Toronto, FoodShare and the Food Policy Initiative of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto. With funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence, they outfitted a truck to bring healthy and culturally appropriate food to people who are marginalized by geography, age, disabilities, language, lack of transportation or other barriers.
The truck hit the streets in 2012 and began improving the lives of people in low-income neighbourhoods by bringing fresh, affordable food right to them. Then in 2013 the Toronto Transit Commission donated a decommissioned Wheel-Trans bus.
The Mobile Good Food Market does more than provide high quality food at good prices. It also connects neighbours. As people gather to buy their groceries, they chat, exchange names, share recipes, and increase their sense of belonging.
There have been licensing and other regulatory issues to work out. Health, safety and nuisance policies and bylaws were enacted for reasons that need to be re-evaluated in light of modern urban realities. Enough of the right players are involved in the project to address the challenges to bringing healthy food to more areas of Toronto.
“Improving Food Access: stories from the Mobile Good Food Market” tells stories of the project’s first year. Some excerpts:
Ana: This market is easier access for me because with the two kids, I have to push the stroller and pull the shopping buggy if I go to the supermarket.
Roseanna: I see my friends there and I feel good because you’re stuck in the same house, same work over and over. So when you come here and go back home, you feel good.
Shirley: I’m born and growed in Guyana and these are the foods I grow up eating. When I go to the doctor and he tests my blood, it’s okay because I eat these greens.
North American cities cater to people in private vehicles. Goods and services are clustered in shopping centers, surrounded by huge parking lots. People with income, transportation and other barriers are marginalized. That has a negative impact on health and quality of life. The Mobile Good Food Market is improving the picture for at least some Canadians. They give me hope.