Mobile market shifts into overdrive post-pandemic

Fresh Moves Mobile Market
Fresh Moves Mobile Market Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In front of the Howard Brown Health Center in Englewood, there is a welcome visitor every Wednesday morning.

"It is a bus that we retrofitted into a farmer's market," said Laurell Sims, CEO, Finance and Food Access Programs, Urban Growers.

"It's a produce aisle on wheels where we go to all different neighborhoods throughout Chicago and provide fresh fruits and vegetables to specific neighborhoods that need access to fresh produce," she said. "Inside the bus, it's filled with shelves with really beautiful produce."

Laurell Sims, CEO, Finance and Food Access Programs, Urban Growers
Laurell Sims, CEO, Finance and Food Access Programs, Urban Growers Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Sims said the Fresh Moves Mobile Market makes three stops a day every weekday in neighborhoods that need it most. Most of the produce comes from their own urban farms.

"We have eight farms totalling 11 acres of produce. We also work with a couple different wholesalers and local farmers to offer fruits and vegetables that maybe go beyond what Chicago has to offer," she said.

Urban Growers Initiative started in 2017 and is a 503c non-profit. The mobile bus makes 15 stops a week in Englewood, Hyde Park, Bronzeville, and Archer Heights.

"People line up behind the bus. When they're ready, they can grab a basket like it's a mini grocery store. We have soap, teas, different herbs, butter, bottles of water, we've got different greens from one of our local farmers. We've got some different grains, a local coffee, then all the produce, wall to wall," said Joslyn Walsh, Mobile Market Coordinator.

People shopping the Fresh Moves Mobile Market bus.
People shopping the Fresh Moves Mobile Market bus. Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

The mobile bus takes food access vouchers, link cards, and offers discounts on fresh produce.

"It's really wonderful. It's nice being able to provide that and go to so many different places in the city. We love being able to tell people, we picked this today," Walsh said.

Fresh Moves Mobile Market
Fresh Moves Mobile Market Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Sims said since the pandemic, they've doubled their food output.

"It's been huge, it's been exponential. In Cook County alone, we went to one in seven food insecure households to one in four, so it's almost doubled," Sims said.

The mobile bus takes food access vouchers, link cards, and offers discounts on fresh produce.
The mobile bus takes food access vouchers, link cards, and offers discounts on fresh produce. Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"We've been going strong for about nine months now, doing a lot of COVID response. Then since then, we've started back with our 15 stops per week through Englewood, Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Archer Heights. We've had a lot of positive feedback from people who don't have access to fresh, healthy food," said Joshua Hughes, Assistant Program Director.

Afra Vincent works at the Howard Brown Health Center. She said she buys produce every week.

"It's awesome to even have something come every Wednesday for us, even as workers so we can stay as healthy as possible," she said.

People shopping the Fresh Moves Mobile Market
People shopping the Fresh Moves Mobile Market Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Tim Jones has worked for the Mobile Market for four months.

"It's a great program. Food is the thing that brings everybody together. Everyone is always excited to get fresh produce," he said.

Tim Jones has worked for the Mobile Market for four months.
Tim Jones has worked for the Mobile Market for four months. Photo credit WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"The pandemic very much shined a light on food insecurity and it's a real problem in Chicago. The more we can create programs like this and to educate people on how to grow their own food, I think the better we will be as a community," said Sims, who hopes to open a second bus in the near future. "If you don't have access, having a choice is just a huge piece of this puzzle. Offering these kinds of things will change the nutrition game. "

Since the pandemic began, Urban Growers Collective has provided 1.5 million pounds of food and produce boxes. For more information, or to find out where the mobile market stops each day, you can log onto https://urbangrowerscollective.org/freshmoves/.