An article about a mobile market starting up in Massachusetts is attached. After reading it (well even before reading it) I am just not sure about mobile markets as the best method for adding healthy food to a community. I get the real need for more food access retail points and think that the idea of entrepreneurial trucks is a great one but what I wonder is this:
The purpose of the farmers market is to allow civic engagement to happen at such a regular interval that behavior change can also happen. Farmers can slowly build their business to meet their face to face customer needs, shoppers can watch others shop and compare notes and learn the seasonality of their region among other things and the neighbors get an amenity that encourages a more vibrant area. All of these things take time and sustained effort and even with the best of intentions may still fail but if it does all work, it can lead to a powerful change in a community. That is the promise of a farmers market, and it also allows everyone to be part of the decision making.
And may I add, the use of the term “market” in its title also troubles me as I think it implies a system that resembles a farmers market and yet we share almost no characteristics with mobile food initiatives.
And as someone who helps build and expand public markets, let me say this: I don’t believe that we have done enough with it yet. I think the type of market that we see in most cases is a “flagship” or “neighborhood niche” (some typology terms that are evolving in the market field) which may not fit the goals of some communities. I believe that there are many types of market types for communities that are organizing themselves. For example, there is a type of farmers market for food deserts (food security market type) that we have yet to fully understand or what the uses of those other types could be.
What worries me about people jumping completely to to the next bandwagon is that I wonder if the mobile market is actually a barrier to communities ever getting a full-fledged farmers market. Adding to that, I think farmers markets are part of a spectrum that can ultimately get communities other food retail options, including at times, full-scaled grocery stores. Can mobile markets lead to that? I’m just not sure.
However, I do see that mobile markets can offer some short termed food access answers and also gather some data about choices that a neighborhood wants. Also, that the mobile market can help some small farmers get prepared for farmers markets among other things.
I also appreciate the nimbleness of the mobile option. I did some research for a potential mobile market while working at MarketUmbrella in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and still believe that there is a use for it in disaster-struck communities. And having talked with the good people of Toronto FoodShare and others who are thinking about the mobile market role, I suggest that it might be a useful bridge to offer healthy prepared foods that could arrive in a neighborhood throughout dinner time and by using local fruits and vegetables in their simple recipes (meals under 4.00 for families and less than 15-20 minutes prep time perhaps?) still support local growers.
So I wonder if how communities deploy farmers markets and mobile markets separately and together could be analyzed using similar measurement (Oh I may find the time to do this myself soon!) and where there has been a successful model of a mobile market, that some in-depth research can be done of this option as an answer to food system needs.
By the way, this quote from the article struck me as a perfect example of the lack of awareness of what farmers markets do and how they do it:
“Traditional farmers’ markets, the pair argue, are often time- and labor-intensive, and have the downside of being stationary.”
Changing behavior takes time and a regular commitment and even though the idea of a moving truck sounds good as a way to get to more people, it also takes the chance away of establishing a haven that can become the start of a neighborhood getting long term amenities.
BUT I lay part of the blame on public market advocates: in order for food system organizers to know what farmers markets can do, we have to share data about what they do.
And find ways to encourage a full spectrum of answers that should well include mobile food.
Also, a link to the Greenpaper that I wrote while at MarketUmbrella: