Talk about curb ap-peel: Cambridge food bank’s mobile market a ‘social enterprise’ for the entire community

Heather Brueckner picks out some bananas at the Mobile Food Market stop at Forward Church, at the Myers Road and Franklin Boulevard roundabout. The church is one of 10 stops the food market makes in Cambridge and North Dumfries.

  • Mobile Food Market co-ordinator Patrick Doyle puts some purple beets in a bag for a shopper.

Heather Brueckner knows the importance of stretching a dollar.

A mother of three with low income, the Cambridge resident took advantage of the annual Tuesday Mobile Food Market stop at Forward Church to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables for her family. The prize purchase of the day was a purple cabbage to whip up a casserole “that will last me for a few days.”

And all for a minimum payment of $5.

“Groceries are getting higher and higher,” Brueckner said, after looking through cabbage, beets, onions, carrots, bananas, apples and collard greens inside a room at the church.

“You go to the grocery store, and you buy a few things for $100. This just helps stretch things a little bit more; and it’s fresh produce grown by local farmers. It’s important.”

While the whole scenario sounds too good to be true, it’s not.

The market, according to Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank executive director Dianne McLeod, was born through a period of reflection during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the food bank asking 600 of its users to critique operations.

The response called for more fresh fruit and vegetables, and not necessarily as a handout, but a hand up. People, McLeod said, were willing to buy the produce, but found grocery store prices were freezing them out.

Things started falling in line for a new outside-the-box service when a longtime donor left the food bank money in their will. With the mobile market starting to take shape, they used the funds to buy a customized van for the project.

The food bank then formed a partnership with Fertile Ground farm, just outside Waterloo, paying them $3,000 to grow for them for the year. The farm then matched that amount to double the output. When growing season ends, the market gets its fresh produce for the same food terminals used by grocery stores.

“We launched with four locations and 60 shoppers, and we’re now going up to 10 locations a year later. Some weeks this past summer, we saw 600 shoppers a week,” McLeod said.

Talk about curb ap-peel.

The market isn’t just for food bank members though, McLeod said, with anyone from the community able to access the one-stop shop of five to six items. The cost is a minimum of $5, but those who can afford to pay more can give $10 or $15. Money above the minimum is what keeps the project afloat, McLeod said.

“We wanted to really decentralize the idea of ​​a charitable food program and people who are poor accessing charitable food programs. So, it’s a bit like a social enterprise really,” McLeod said.

She noted mobile organizers have noticed many of the market’s patrons are older adults. Through conversation, it was found many of them are on a fixed income but refuse to use the food bank.

That discovery falls in line with the recent Food Banks Canada HungerCount report, revealing older adults representing 8.9 per cent of Canadian food bank users, “with the rate of increase far outpacing other age groups.”

“The market really provides a stigma-free place for people of all walks of life to gather, get good, nutritious food and they can pay what they can afford,” McLeod said.

Each week, the produce changes, McLeod said, giving shoppers a wide array of choices. The menu is up on the food bank’s social media pages every Monday. People can pass on things they don’t like, but it also gives patrons a chance to try things they may not normally eat.

Patrick Doyle, the Mobile Food Market co-ordinator, said recipes are usually available at the market when “unusual” produce is on the menu, like collard greens, okra or kohlrabi. He added volunteers are also adept at cooking some of the items and can be asked for tips as well.

And while the need is there for further food market expansion, McLeod said, staffing restricts them to adding only one more stop.

“We’re going to probably try to do one more location up in the Southwood area because we don’t have anything there yet,” McLeod said.

To learn more about the Mobile Food Market, go to https://cambridgefoodbank.org/mobile-food-market/.


STORY BEHIND THE STORY: An annual update released by the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank noted its year-old initiative, the Mobile Food Market, has taken off. The Times wanted to find out more about this outside-the-box project.

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