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Farm Truck: a model for supplying fresh produce to New York City’s food deserts

   /   Nov 1st, 2010Food, News

Do you know how many servings of fruits or vegetables you ate in the past 24 hours? If it’s two or more, you’re in the minority. Almost 70 percent of Americans eat one serving or less of fresh produce each day — and the problem is worst in the nation’s poorest communities — especially those labeled “food deserts” because healthy food is often unavailable for purchase. The scarcity of fresh produce in these areas contributes to high rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Jurrien Swarts is in the business of helping people eat healthier. Swarts and his cousin, Seth Holton recently took over the eighth-generation family business: 250-acre Holton Farms in Vermont. The farm produces a full range of products — organic and conventional vegetables, herbs and fruits, as well as foods from livestock. Swarts runs a community-supported agriculture program (CSA) in New York and a mobile farm stand, aptly named, Farm Truck.

The Farm Truck serves affluent areas in New York City where organic tomatoes and fresh kale are easy to come by. But in the past year it has also started setting up shop within the city’s food deserts. More than 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income areas that are at least a mile from a supermarket. In these neighborhoods, convenience stores are the go-to places for groceries. Residents often pay higher prices for lower quality foods — mostly processed starches.

Many attempts to bring fresh produce to these areas have stalled. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive to grow and transport at small scales, so a fair price for the farmer is often too high for the low-income consumer.

The Farm Truck overcomes this problem by offsetting its losses in lower income areas with profits in wealthier ones. It looks for better-off customers who are willing to pay a little more for quality produce (mixed with a social purpose) — a strategy known as cross-subsidization. And because it is on wheels it can reach different groups of customers easily.

Swarts sees the Truck as just one example of many creative efforts being advanced today to address the food desert problem.

Holton Farms has plans to scale up through collaborations with like-minded organizations. Swarts would like to create profitable centralized kitchens that prepare farm-fresh foods for low-income families cafeteria style. Holton Farms also plans to sell healthy microwaveable meals that kids can prepare at home.

For now they are busy applying for additional vending permits, working to grow their customer base, and, of course, preparing for winter!

Photo: Holton Farms

4 Responses

  1. Hamidou Hadiya Deh says:

    I am the CEO of Societe Internationale Agro-Nouakchott Mauritania west Africa
    Holder of Passport No. M0462109
    Trade register number is 65 318
    My motive is to buy agricultural products.
    My departure date is 10/05/2011 for a maximum of 15 days.
    I take full responsibility for all costs incurred by my stay in New York.

    Pending a favorable result that we want to obtain an invitation, please accept the expression of our deep feelings of respect.

  2. [...] Farm Truck: A Model For Supplying Fresh Produce To New York City’s Food Deserts Farm Truck sells fresh produce in wealthier areas at a steeper price – and then uses those profits to sell the same quality food in low-income neighborhoods, at a discounted cost. [...]

  3. What a great initiative! It’s important to highlight that giving healthy food is a much better approach.

  4. emilie zaweski says:

    i would like to know how you would recommend starting a business like this we are farmers on long island and love the concept