A Grocery Store on Wheels

Posted November 24, 2015 by Cindy Hutter

In this occasional Innovation Showcase feature series, NICHQ highlights nonprofits and unique initiatives that are having an impact on children’s health.
Boy Learning About Food
Fresh Truck offers interactive food programs for families to learn about cooking and try new foods.
Nearly 23.5 million Americans are living in neighborhoods without convenient options for buying fresh and affordable food. This is a serious public health problem because the health of a community depends on access to healthy foods.

Josh Trautwein decided to tackle the “grocery gap” in Boston by creating the nonprofit Fresh Truck. The idea behind Fresh Truck is simple—become a reliable source of healthy food in neighborhoods that lack convenient access to grocery stores. Trautwein and his team converted two school buses into mobile markets. One bus conducts weekly stops in targeted Boston neighborhoods and the second is used for pop-up markets and community outreach events.

Food Truck Bus
Fresh Truck makes weekly stops in Boston neighborhoods that don’t have convenient access to grocery stores.
“Food is foundational to the health and wellness of the community,” says Trautwein, Fresh Truck’s co-founder and executive director. “There is a lot of awareness now about the importance of eating healthy, and there are groups doing great work around cooking literacy, nutritional literacy, smoking cessation and more. But it’s hard to meaningfully change the healthy lifestyle of a community if families don’t have a way of accessing healthy food.”

Girl Food Shopping
When children pick out their own fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to eat it.
The Fresh Truck team seeks to be a fixture in the communities they serve. They work hard to have culturally relevant foods for the people who come to the truck and hold interactive food programs where families can learn about cooking and try new foods. Ultimately, the company hopes shopping on the truck will be part of a family’s routine—so families will cook and eat fresher, healthy foods, and the neighborhood will embrace a health-centered food culture.

“At times, people come on the truck and say they don’t like anything or haven’t tried anything on the truck before. We’re OK with that,” says Trautwein. “We meet communities with realness, and make conversations about healthy eating on their terms. There are a lot of cool food traditions in neighborhoods and we ask about that. Having those sorts of conversations helps to restore a food culture when it has maybe disappeared.”

To advance the cause, Trautwein makes a habit of getting close to his customers. For example, Connor, a five-year-old boy from Charlestown, and his mom have shopped on the truck each week for the past two years. Trautwein and Connor talk about what the family is buying and what they will do with it.

Woman Food Shopping
Fresh Truck hopes shopping on the truck will be part of a family’s routine.
“He eats [vegetables] because he picks them out. That’s his food memory,” says Trautwein. “Instead of the ice cream man, instead of McDonalds, his baseline for eating with be Fresh Truck and healthy food. I can see through Connor and those sorts of encounters that we are having an impact.”

The next horizon
Trautwein is also passionate about food being an integrated part of healthcare. The Fresh Truck team is trying to find ways to intersect with healthcare providers. One idea is to develop a web-based platform to let healthcare institutions prescribe fruits and vegetables as part of a medical record.

“By digitizing the program, and capturing data around what people are purchasing, and comparing these to health outcomes, you can make a data-driven argument that food is medicine,” says Trautwein.

Fresh Truck is supported by a network of partners. Learn more at www.freshtruck.org.


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