By Megan Ockert
In the face of local food deserts, lead contamination and chronic disease in the community, Amber Hasan and her Flint Fresh Mobile Market are trying to provide an oasis on wheels.
Supported in partnership with the Flint Farmers’ Market, the Local Grocer and Flint Food Works, Hasan and her assistant manager Bobby Blake have taken to the streets in a delivery van loaded with fresh locally grown food and other healthful items.
Hasan and Blake stock the mobile market with produce from local growers, including onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, and squash. They also have dry beans, organic canned beans, rice, pasta, and sauces, as well as chicken and vegetable broths and a selection of “grab and go items” like chicken salad sandwiches and yogurt.
“In the future, we hope to offer meat. There is a definite need for it among the Flint community,” Hasan said.
Flint Fresh operates four days a week, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays. Its stops have included Slidell Senior Residence Apartments on Carpenter Road, Dion’s Party Store on North Saginaw Street, Brennan Community Center on Pingree Avenue behind the Food Bank, and the Neighborhood Engagement Hub on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Her efforts, one example of a nonprofit public and private partnership evolving in Flint in the wake of the water crisis, appear to be working, with plans firming up for winter hours at convenient locations around town.
For now, their van has been rented or provided by one of their partners, the Neighborhood Engagement Hub on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Other partners include the YMCA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Flint Fresh debuted last August during the Crim Festival of Races and throughout the summer and fall regularly visited four sites offering fresh produce and other items.
The Local Grocer, co-owned by Erin Caudell and Franklin Pleasant, plays a big part in the mobile market’s day-to-day operations.
“We coordinate the ordering and the logistics for the Flint Fresh Mobile Market,” Caudell said, “And we work with local farmers to supply the produce. Some of it comes from the Flint Ingredient Company, which is the sister business to The Local Grocer, and some of it comes from other farmers in Genesee and Lapeer counties as well as from the Lansing area.”
The mobile market concept developed after closures in recent years of two VG’s and a Krogers on Davison Road left thousands of Flint residents without convenient access to fresh food. The water crisis with its burden of lead contamination additionally propelled the effort to get nutritious food to the community, Hasan explained.
With plans to expand, Hasan said the mobile market will keep the same hours but locations are being modified to indoors for the winter. A recent Wednesday, for example, found them set up near the cafeteria at Hurley Hospital.
Up-to-date information about where and when to find the market is available at flintfresh.com or their Facebook page at FlintFreshMobileMarket.
“Even before the water crisis, I saw a need for a way to give Flint residents fresh produce. It became apparent that a mobile market is a way to bring people what they need and insure that everybody has access to fresh foods,” Hasan said.
The water crisis has added new urgency to living a healthy lifestyle, she noted.
“I think Flint residents are trying everything they can to prevent the adverse affects of lead poisoning including maintaining a healthy and balanced diet,” she said.
Hasan and Blake additionally see their role as providing outreach, helping link Flint residents to other benefits, like aerobics classes and seminars on retirement benefits provided at some of their locations, such as the Brennan Community Center.
Further, she said, “because we are locally supported we will not only help sustain Flint, but also build the economy.”
Hasan said the Flint Fresh Mobile Market is a nonprofit partnership, governed by a board made up of some of their supporters, like The Local Grocer, YMCA, and the Neighborhood Engagement Hub.
The Local Grocer was founded in 2012 when Caudell and Pleasant purchased eight acres of vacant land in the Beecher area to farm. They had previously grown produce for an informal two-family Community Supported Agriculture program, which they would sell at small neighborhood farmers’ markets.
Caudell said, “Increasing access to locally grown produce to Flint residents is part of the mission of The Local Grocer. We are excited to be a part of this unique partnership with other great organizations to offer this opportunity for growers to sell more of their produce to Flint residents.”
Caudell added it’s also important to offer Flint residents more opportunities to buy locally grown produce close to home.
Hasan stated Flint Fresh has found a diverse group of customers, ranging from large families to single parents. Their most frequent customers, however, are senior citizens. “Because seniors often have limited mobility it can be really hard for them to go out and get their groceries,” she said.
Flint Fresh accepts cash, debit and credit cards, as well as those who receive SNAP benefits. Through the efforts of the Fair Foods Network, SNAP recipients can double their benefits through the Double Up Food Bucks Program (DUFB). This means that for every SNAP dollar spent recipients receive credit on their DUFB card to be spent on fresh produce.
Although only two people currently staff the mobile market, Hasan said she has plans to expand, which may mean hiring more help. Hasan added she hopes to replace their borrowed mobile unit with a vehicle of their own.
For more information about how to get involved with the Flint Fresh Mobile Market, to check on schedules, to suggest other locations, and for information about hiring, visit flintfresh.com or their Facebook page at FlintFreshMobileMarket.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to remove Michigan State Extension as a partner in FlintFresh. It is not a partner.
EVM writer Megan Ockert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org