If you wanted to buy fresh local food, where would you go? In many communities in West Virginia, the answer is farmers markets – but there is growing potential for a new ‘mobile’ market model that can sell local food to consumers in low-access West Virginia communities.
The My Mobile Market operated by the Williamson Farmers Market and the Mobile Market operated by Grow Ohio Valley are two models for mobile markets. They presented their projects at the 2015 Small Farm Conference. Download their presentation here (2mb)
Mobile markets address several problems with access to local food:
Mobile market operators ‘aggregate’ product – that is, reach out to get produce from a variety of producers – and take this larger batch of produce to be sold in communities that meet their criteria. By doing so they create economic opportunity for those farmers while keeping them on their farms, and address the needs of low-access communities.
Food For Thought: Are you interested in seeing a mobile market in your foodshed? Which organizations in your community receive funding for wellness, health, or community development? They may be ideal mobile market operators.
After receiving a Mobile Market grant from the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition in 2014, the Williamson Farmers Market, which is operated by the Mingo County Diabetes Coalition, held local food meetings to figure out the best locations and dates for their mobile market.
A 6×12 hitch trailer was retrofitted with a refrigeration unit. This trailer can also be used during the offseason. They contracted with local farmers to sell produce on consignment at six sites in Mingo County in 2014 that were identified based on need. These sites were seen as pilot locations for the model. SNAP, WIC, Debit, cash, and other vouchers were accepted as payment.
Several My Mobile Market stops included additional activities including healthy cooking demos, recipe cards, kids activities, taste testing, and story telling.
By the end of the market season, they had made a number of positive impacts:
Food For Thought: Mobile markets can be agents of change for perceived social barriers. In their report from 2014, My Mobile Market stated that when word got out that they planned to hold a market in the community of Dingess, which is a small, hard-to-get-to town, they were warned by people that going to Dingess would not be safe. However, the market went well and was one of the most successful markets in terms of cash sales.
Leveraging resources from different sources was a key component to success. In addition the WVFFC grant, they also received assistance from the CSX and Conservation Fund Food Access Grant, which provided children vouchers for produce sold at the market. By using volunteer labor, connecting with home gardeners, and partnering with city and county agencies, they were able to see their mobile market be successful by building around existing infrastructure.
The Mobile Market is a solution to developing new “vendors” – a 2011 survey had identified 22 farmers in a 150 mile radius, and only 5 that currently sold at the regular stationary market in Williamson. Farmers said they had no time and were too busy to sell, and many gave produce away – problems that could potentially be solved by a mobile market. Indeed, connections to more farmers were made in 2014.
My Mobile Market will operate in 2015. The first market day is scheduled for June 19th.
The Grow Ohio Valley Mobile Market was built on the prior success of the East Wheeling Farm Stand. Once Grow Ohio Valley received the WVFFC mobile market mini-grant, they were able to use the funds to get support from other sources. They received $23,000 in total from a combination of Community Impact Grants, crowd funding, the Schenk Charitable Trust, and the Hess Family Foundation.
They configured a flat-bed truck which has multiple uses, and planned to sell what they grew combined with produce from nearby amish growers. They accepted SNAP, WIC, debit, cash, credit, checks, and other vouchers.
Grow Ohio Valley held 4 weekly stops during the season. 2 were held at low-income/elderly high-rises, one was a medium income high-rise, and one was a regular stop at Centre Market.
Grow Ohio Valley saw a number of positive impacts:
Grow Ohio Valley has identified a need to be clear and simple with their communications, especially in regards to marketing to seniors after there was confusion over “fair-trade” being taken to mean a barter system. Additionally, to minimize set-up time, their vision involves acquiring a dedicated market vehicle with a place for everything.
Grow Ohio Valley plans to capitalize on the mobile market concept in 2015 and beyond. Their routes are expanding to include Brooke & Marshall counties, and have received key support from the Appalachian Foodshed Project to hire a dedicated market manager. They plan to acquire a step van / bread truck for a final build out, and seek to operate 5-6 days a week with some higher volume shopping areas. They see the mobile market model as a potential profit center. The market will likely be in operation from June through October.