The Mobile Good Food Market Program, Toronto: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Alexina Cather, MPH

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Overview: The Mobile Good Food Market Program has converted old, unused transit buses into mobile grocery stores that sell fresh and high-quality produce at affordable prices to underserved, low-income communities in Toronto.

Food policy category: Social and Economic Equity; Food Security and Accessibility; Food Supply and Distribution

Location: Toronto, Canada

  • Population: 2.615 million (US Census Bureau, 2011)
  • The most populous city in Canada; recognized as one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Program Initiated: January 2012

  • The program began its pilot phase in July 2012 after extensive consultation with community stakeholders and an analysis of food access gaps (needs assessment of Toronto neighborhoods).

Progress to date:

  • The Mobile Good Food Market Bus currently make ten stops (once a week) to serve residents all over the city.
  • One more bus is currently being retrofitted to serve additional communities across the city.

Program goals:

  • To offer healthy and affordable fresh foods to residents that live in “food deserts,” or neighborhoods with few affordable, high quality fresh food outlets and an overabundance of less healthy food outlets.
  • To provide fresh and culturally relevant produce to vulnerable populations (specifically, single-parent homes, elderly populations, specifically low-income residents) at prices that are cheaper than average grocery store prices throughout the city.
  • To promote healthy and sustainable eating habits among all Toronto residents; to support nutrition and disease prevention.
  • To build stronger communities through communal food sources; To promote links between urban life and agricultural producers.
  • To demonstrate the importance of healthy food access for the whole population through the “Grab Some Good” brand in collaboration with Toronto Public Health.

How it works:

The Mobile Good Food Market Program is a collaboration between FoodShare Toronto (a non-profit food organization) and the City of Toronto (via the Toronto Food Strategy).

  • FoodShare has several social justice enterprises that sell fresh produce programs at wholesale prices. Last year FoodShare sold $2.1 of produce and spent $1.6 million buying produce. This gives the organization significant buying power.
  • Mobile Good Food Markets takes advantage of FoodShare’s buying power to purchase fresh healthy, high-quality, local and seasonal produce whenever possible at lower prices. In 2015, Mobile Good Food Markets sold $43,000 worth of produce via 344 markets.
  • The Mobile Good Food Market Program buys the majority (68 percent in 2012) of its fresh produce from the Ontario Food Terminal, Canada’s largest wholesale Fruit and Produce Terminal.
    • Ontario Growers can sell their produce/horticultural products on a daily basis by paying $45 upon entrance or by applying for a stall on an annual or semi-annual basis.
    • In 2012, 38 percent of the produce bought at the Ontario Food Terminal was locally sourced.
  • Approximately 25 percent of Mobile Good Food Markets produce was bought directly from 25 local family farms.
  • The Mobile Good Food Market is funded by produce sales, grants and donations.

Establishing the Mobile Good Food Market Route:

  • The healthy food bus runs weekly and currently makes 10 stops throughout Toronto.
  • To ensure that areas with the most need are visited by the Mobile Good Food Markets, stops are based on specific criteria: 1) Communities must be at least one kilometer walking distance from the nearest discount grocery store; 2) Communities have a high single-parent families population and/or high senior population; 3) Communities have a cluster of high-rise residential apartment towers; 4) Communities are primarily low-income.
    • The Good Food Markets Program consults community members and conducts regular city-wide evaluations.
  • To identify accessible locations to park the mobile bus, the Mobile Good Food Markets have partnered with local leaders and agencies.

Why it is important:

  • The program addresses food insecurity and food accessibility. It identifies food deserts and “food swamps” (places with a high concentration of unhealthy food but little healthy food available) within Toronto and aims to increase access to healthy foods in these areas.
  • It provides fruits and vegetables at low prices creating a system that in which food pricing favors healthy choices.
  • It demonstrates that the Toronto city government is prioritizing health and nutrition for all residents.

Evaluation: A study assessing the value of mobile markets has found that mobile markets significantly facilitate healthy eating in food deserts. On average, people who shopped at mobile markets ate significantly more fruits and vegetables than those who did not (Zepeda & Reznickova, 2013).

  • In 2012, within 20 weeks of Mobile Good Food Market service, approximately 35,900 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were sold to city residents and 14,200 Toronto residents were reached.
  • In 2014, Mobile Good Food Markets sold approximately 38,500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to city residents reaching over 6,000 Toronto people.

Learn more:

Point of Contact:

Similar practices: There are mobile healthy food markets in several US cities including: Philadelphia, Oakland, Chicago, Madison and Toronto.

Greensgrow Farms Mobile Markets: (not a government program)

  • Launched in 2011, Greensgrow Farms Mobile Markets in Philadelphia sells produce purchased directly from local farmers in low-income, underserved areas.
  • Greensgrow Mobile Markets has served over 15,000 customers and distributed 40+ tons of fresh produce.
  • Over 60 percent of customers have reported eating more fruits and vegetables as a direct result of the project.
  • In 2014, the project expanded travel to three new neighborhoods (adding one additional truck).

This information has been provided and confirmed by FoodShare and the Toronto Food Strategy.

References:

 

Photo credit: Laura Berman/GreenFuse Photography

 

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