Mobile produce markets

Mobile produce markets, mobile farmers markets, or fresh food carts travel to multiple neighborhoods to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, operating on a set schedule so residents know when they can shop. Mobile markets can be created from buses, trucks, vans, carts, or any other vehicle with space to display produce. Mobile markets often travel to areas without easy access to supermarkets or grocery stores (i.e. food deserts) (Hsiao 2019*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption
  • Increased healthy foods in food deserts

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased food security

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that mobile produce markets increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods with lower incomes and food deserts (Hsiao 2019*, Leone 2018, Gans 2018). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Mobile produce markets may increase healthy food purchases and consumption, especially when combined with food-assistance incentives, nutrition education, and social gathering opportunities for consumers (Hsiao 2019*). Higher market attendance is associated with greater increases in produce consumption than lower attendance (Gans 2018). A North Carolina-based study suggests mobile markets that sell locally grown produce at reduced prices, with nutrition and cooking education components, can increase produce consumption as well as self-efficacy and confidence in preparing whatever produce is on hand for meals and snacks (Leone 2018). One study suggests mobile markets can increase schoolchildren’s access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables (Tester 2012). Mobile produce markets appear to improve all dimensions of access to fresh produce, especially among older adults and those with low incomes; improved access includes increased produce availability, affordability, quality, and acceptability; market accessibility and safety; and accommodations such as electronic benefit transfer (EBT) acceptance (Hsiao 2018*).

Locating mobile produce markets in neighborhoods with high concentrations of food insecure households may reduce food insecurity (Widener 2012*, Algert 2006*). Successful mobile produce markets carefully select market location, provide nutrition education, use food assistance programs and incentives, provide market site liaisons, and encourage social gatherings (Hsiao 2019*). Some supplemental educational components may be more effective than others; one study associates offering recipes, taste-testings, and DVDs with greater increases in produce consumption than providing chef demonstrations, newsletters, and campaigns (Gans 2018). Mobile market attendance and benefits may be maximized through advertising and promotion, extended hours of operation, and offering a variety of products (Zepeda 2014a*). A New York City-based study of Green Carts suggests increasing EBT acceptance at mobile produce carts may increase purchases of fruits and vegetables from these vendors (Breck 2017). One rural mobile produce market implementation report suggests social marketing plans, community involvement in decision making, and careful operational decisions regarding mobile market design, distribution plan, and site and produce selection, may improve intervention success in rural food deserts (Ramirez 2017*).

A system of mobile markets can be established relatively quickly and at low cost, especially in urban areas (Widener 2012*) with fewer practical barriers to implementation than large grocery stores or restaurants (Lucan 2019*). In some cases, however, incentives may be needed to encourage mobile markets to operate in food deserts (Li 2014).

Experts suggest mobile produce markets are a flexible strategy to bring healthy, fresh foods into food deserts without increasing unhealthy food supplies; markets can adjust hours, schedule, produce offerings, and prices based on community needs (Lucan 2019*). Experts also suggest mobile produce markets are not sufficient to address structural inequities in access to healthy foods and are more appropriate as a short-term strategy to promote food availability while communities pursue broader, structural changes (Mari 2017*).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Mobile markets are currently in use in many cities across the country, including Adrian, MI (PBH-Veggie mobile); Albuquerque, NM (CDC-Caswell 2015); Baltimore, MD (Real food-Mobile market); Buffalo, NY (MAP-Mobile market); Chattanooga, TN (Chattanooga mobile); Chicago, IL (UGC-Mobile market); Hartford, CT (HFS-Mobile market); Milwaukee, WI (Market Boxx); Washington, DC (Arcadia-Mobile market); and Contra Costa County, CA (Fresh Approach-Mobile market).

Mobile markets are also being used to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to Native American reservations in Ashland County, Wisconsin (Wojciechowski 2010), and to rural areas in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Washington (GGFN-Mobile market). In Santa Fe, MoGro Mobile Grocery uses a temperature controlled truck to bring produce to rural and tribal communities across northern New Mexico; MoGro accepts SNAP, sources locally-grown produce during the growing season, and offers educational workshops on health, wellness, and sustainable agriculture (PolicyLink-Mobile markets, SFCF-MoGro).

Some mobile markets have developed curbside delivery options in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as in Austin, Texas (Austin-Mobile markets).

Implementation Resources

ChangeLab-Mobile food vending - ChangeLab Solutions. Healthy mobile food vending.

PolicyLink-HFA portal - PolicyLink, The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund. Healthy food access portal: Research your community, change policy, launch a business, resources & tools.

PolicyLink-Mobile markets - PolicyLink, The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund. Healthy food access portal: Mobile markets business model resources.

CDC-HFR 2014 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Healthier food retail (HFR): An action guide for public health practitioners. 2014.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Hsiao 2019* - Hsiao BS, Sibeko L, Troy LM. A systematic review of mobile produce markets: Facilitators and barriers to use, and associations with reported fruit and vegetable intake. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019;119(1):76-97.e1.

Leone 2018 - Leone LA, Tripicchio GL, Haynes-Maslow L, et al. Cluster randomized controlled trial of a mobile market intervention to increase fruit and vegetable intake among adults in lower-income communities in North Carolina. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2018;15(2).

Gans 2018 - Gans KM, Risica PM, Keita AD, et al. Multilevel approaches to increase fruit and vegetable intake in low-income housing communities: Final results of the “Live Well, Viva Bien” cluster-randomized trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2018;15(80):1-18.

Tester 2012 - Tester JM, Yen IH, Laraia B. Using mobile fruit vendors to increase access to fresh fruit and vegetables for schoolchildren. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2012;9.

Hsiao 2018* - Hsiao BS, Sibeko L, Wicks K, Troy LM. Mobile produce market influences access to fruits and vegetables in an urban environment. Public Health Nutrition. 2018;21(7):1332-1344.

Widener 2012* - Widener MJ, Metcalf SS, Bar-Yam Y. Developing a mobile produce distribution system for low-income urban residents in food deserts. Journal of Urban Health. 2012;89(5):733–45.

Algert 2006* - Algert SJ, Agrawal A, Lewis DS. Disparities in access to fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006;30(5):365–70.

Zepeda 2014a* - Zepeda L, Reznickova A, Lohr L. Overcoming challenges to effectiveness of mobile markets in US food deserts. Appetite. 2014;72:58-67.

Breck 2017 - Breck A, Kiszko K, Martinez O, Abrams C, Elbel B. Could EBT machines increase fruit and vegetable purchases at New York City green carts? Preventing Chronic Disease. 2017;14:170104.

Ramirez 2017* - Ramirez AS, Diaz Rios LK, Valdez Z, Estrada E, Ruiz A. Bringing produce to the people: Implementing a social marketing food access intervention in rural food deserts. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2017;49(2):166-174.e1.

Lucan 2019* - Lucan SC. Local food sources to promote community nutrition and health: Storefront businesses, farmers’ markets, and a case for mobile food vending. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019;119(1):39-44.

Li 2014 - Li KY, Cromley EK, Fox AM, Horowitz CR. Evaluation of the placement of mobile fruit and vegetable vendors to alleviate food deserts in New York City. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014;11:140086.

Mari 2017* - Mari E. Healthy food on wheels: An exploration of mobile produce markets through a food justice lens. A Chapter of: Werkheiser I, Piso Z, eds. Food justice in US and global contexts. The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics. 2017;24:141-157.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

PBH-Veggie mobile - ProMedica Bixby Hospital (PBH), Lenawee Health Network. Veggie Mobile: A rolling farmers’ market for Lenawee County residents.

CDC-Caswell 2015 - Caswell L. NCCDPHP success story: Mobile market created in Albuquerque food deserts to increase healthy eating. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2015.

Real food-Mobile market - Real Food Farm. Mobile farmers market.

MAP-Mobile market - Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) & Growing Green. Mobile market.

Chattanooga mobile - Chattanooga Mobile Market. Fresh food for all.

UGC-Mobile market - Urban Growers Collective (UGC). Fresh Moves Mobile Market brings locally grown produce to Chicago’s communities while supporting the growth of Chicago’s urban farmers.

HFS-Mobile market - Hartford Food System (HFS). Hartford Mobile Market.

Market Boxx - Market Boxx Community Stores. Bringing fresh food into Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Arcadia-Mobile market - Arcadia. Mobile market.

Fresh Approach-Mobile market - Fresh Approach. Freshest Cargo: Mobile farmers' market.

Wojciechowski 2010 - Wojciechowski T. FEAST farmer’s market promotion project: Final report. Ashland County: University of Wisconsin Extension; 2010.

GGFN-Mobile market - Gorge Grown Food Network (GGFN). Farmers’ market network uses mobile market trucks to support markets.

PolicyLink-Mobile markets - PolicyLink, The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund. Healthy food access portal: Mobile markets business model resources.

SFCF-MoGro - Santa Fe Community Foundation (SFCF). MoGro Mobile Grocery: Project of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Austin-Mobile markets - Farmshare Austin. Mobile markets: Fresh for less mobile market products, delivered to your curb.

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