Within the high desert that is Albuquerque there are a number of “food deserts,” where people do not have easy access to fresh produce.
They may not be able to get transportation, there may be few stores that sell fresh produce, or they may simply not be able to afford it.
Under a pilot program, which ends Oct. 20, four of those so-called food deserts have been identified and a Mobile Market will go there, bringing residents fresh, healthy, locally grown, chemical-free produce at a reduced price, said Anzia Bennett, a spokeswoman for the project.
On Tuesday, the Mobile Market rolled into the parking lot outside First Nations Community Healthcare in the International District, where about 50 people, some of them getting services at the clinic, lined up to buy chiles, chives, basil, blackberries, green beans and more.
Funding for the Mobile Market came from Bernalillo County, which bought and refurbished a large, older model Dodge van, as well as $25,000, and a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Partnering with the county are Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Agri-cultura Network, Storehouse New Mexico and Streetfood Institute.
According to Bennett, eight farms in the South Valley and one in Bosque Farms formed the Agri-Cultura Network, which grows the produce. “The farmers are paid full price for the produce, but with the support of our sponsors we’re able to offer it through the Mobile Market at reduced price,” she said.
Accompanying the Mobile Market van to each food desert location is a food truck from the Streetfood Institute, a nonprofit organization that gives technical support and business education to young people with culinary entrepreneurial goals. The chef aboard the truck creates a healthy dish using some of the fresh produce being sold at the market, and then provides a free sample of the dish and the recipe.
The sample and recipe on this afternoon is chopped vegetable salad with rice noodles, chile-lime dressing and roasted chicken.
Shoppers are also given informational fliers about community organizations and events, and community health issues and resources.
Monica Henderson, who lives in the International District, had come to the clinic for an appointment and was pleasantly surprised to find the Mobile Market.
“I normally get canned vegetables and fruit from the supermarket, but now I can buy it fresh,” she said, selecting chard, green beans and blackberries. “In the grocery store, canned produce is generally cheaper, but it has that canned taste, like it’s been sitting on the shelf too long, and the fresh produce is more expensive, but sometimes it’s not all that fresh.”
Another clinic patient, Allyson Turner, said she happily came across the Mobile Market last week and returned to take advantage of the fresh produce and prices. “I thought it was wonderful. I had a little snack, bought some purple basil and went home and made purple pesto and pasta that lasted me five meals at a cost of about $1.50 each. The taste, color and texture of the produce here are just better.”