Food trucks are everywhere. You’ve probably picked up lunch from one a time or two. For many of us, food trucks are another way to access food conveniently, as they show up outside of our office buildings, and we have a meal at our fingertips.
But a different kind of food truck is making waves in St. Louis, Mo. The St. Louis MetroMarket is a non-profit farmer’s market operating with the goal of addressing the issue of food deserts in St. Louis. A food desert is a location where residents lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet. Food deserts are frequently in very rural and very urban areas, where grocery stores—or grocery stores that provide high-quality healthy options—are few and far between.
Food deserts beget food insecurity, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
To address the problems associated with living in a food desert, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis has begun prescribing fruits and vegetables during children’s annual well-child checkups if there is an indication that hunger is an issue at home. If the child and his or her family is determined to be food insecure, they receive a coupon to be used at the MetroMarket.
There is no questioning the brilliance of this idea. What a wonderful way to help children and families in need access foods that they otherwise would not be able to, either because they could not afford them or because they simply were not accessible/available. But how does a business such as MetroMarket sustain itself when it’s providing these healthy foods free of charge?
And that’s where this idea gets really brilliant! Businesses, such as Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, can purchase memberships that will have MetroMarket on site for 25 weeks of the year. While doctors are writing prescriptions and providing coupons for patients to use the service, the doctors and other employees can also purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. According to Jeremy Gross, a Saint Louis University medical student and co-founder of MetroMarket, “We’ll take the revenue that we make from the corporate campuses, and we’ll use that to offset the work that we’re doing in low-income communities.”
MetroMarket aims to eliminate four barriers that people living in food deserts face:
- Access: To be healthy, people need access to fresh healthy food.
- Affordability: Many people who live in food deserts are have lower incomes, meaning they may be unable to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, even if they have access.
- Ability: Ability is closely aligned with access. Especially in very rural areas, many people lack the ability to travel to where fresh produce is sold.
- Awareness: Lack of education and understanding about the importance of healthy eating is a major hurdle to addressing food insecurity and food deserts.
It is this last bullet that piques my health communicator radar. We must continue to educate the public on the issues of hunger, food insecurity, and food deserts. This a pet issue of mine, so during these summer months when farmers markets are in full swing, stay tuned for a continuing series from me on this topic. And if you have one nearby, get up from the computer and make a run to your local farmers market today!