Fresh Moves to launch in May

By HermineBloom

For those living in the Austin and North Lawndale communities, “default food” is pizza or McDonalds, according to Shawn Jackson, who’s the principal at Spencer Technology Academy, 214 N. Lavergne Ave. and an Austin resident.

“I’ve looked at the kids coming in, and a lot of them don’t even eat breakfast or they substitute [breakfast] with junk food,” Jackson said.

To combat this inequity, a mobile market, known as Fresh Moves, will act as the city’s first mobile produce stand catering exclusively to the aforementioned communities. A renovated Chicago Transit Authority bus painted bright red with larger-than-life fruits and vegetables on it will be parked outside health centers, schools and churches in these two underserved Chicago communities. Inside, shelves and baskets contain fresh bananas, kale and tomatoes for sale. Recipe cards donated by Kendall College will also be handed out.

Fresh Moves will debut on May 25 after nearly four years in the making. The organization seeks to be a 12-month solution to the city’s persisting food desert issue. Although mobile-food buses exist in places like Oakland, Calif., upstate New York, Tennessee and North Carolina, this is the first effort of its kind in Chicago.

During the project’s May 25 soft launch, which will last approximately six weeks, the bus will operate three days a week to test things such as what kinds of produce the community likes and what parking lots the bus is physically unable to enter. Toward the end of June, Fresh Moves will begin operating five days a week.

According to Fresh Moves Board Secretary Sheelah Muhammad, she and the two other team members focused on community engagement to stir interest. Banks, churches, health clinics and schools in those areas get involved by hosting stops for the bus or throwing fundraisers.

“We wanted to empower the community and make sure the community wanted and needed this,” Muhammad said. “We’ve gotten a resounding, ‘When are you coming?’”

Muhammad, Fresh Moves Vice President Jeff Pinzino and Board President Steve Casey developed an organization called Food Desert Action with fellow community activists almost four years ago after discovering a shocking 2006 report about food deserts in Chicago by researcher Mari Gallagher. At first, they looked into opening a physical storefront to sell produce but ended up being constrained by upfront capital and land. Fresh Moves was born when the team collectively realized a mobile-food bus doesn’t have to coincide with the farmers market season.

“People still need fresh fruits and vegetables in January on subzero days in the snow,” Pinzino said. “Having a vehicle with an indoor space allows us to do that effectively in Chicago in a way that is less of an issue in San Francisco, for instance.”

In the past year, Architecture for Humanity Chicago, or a group of pro-bono architects and designers working on community-driven projects, helped to design a sustainable bus with hopes of later incorporating biodiesel fuel and solar panels. Chicago-based company EPIC, one that pairs non-profits with creative professionals, created a brand for Fresh Moves and developed its website at no cost. Organizations such as Good City Chicago and North Lawndale Employment Network, among many others, are providing contacts and hosting stops for the bus.

The key to this project’s success, Pinzino said, is gaining respect, understanding and a genuine commitment to doing work that engages and benefits the community. Pinzino, who works as the Development Director for National People’s Action, sees the food desert issue as a modern day example of redlining in Chicago.

“National People’s Action was known in the ’70s for dealing with a situation in which banks were not lending in Chicago, especially in African-American communities,” Pinzino said. “Bankers would literally draw red lines around neighborhoods where they would not invest. I think we’re seeing a similar pattern of retail disinvestment.”

Competitive prices and accepting Link cards in addition to debit cards are meaningful details the Fresh Moves team agreed upon.

“We know we’re working with communities that are low-income and working class and where price matters,” Pinzino said. “By working with a number of sources, we can keep our prices as low as possible.”

An elementary school, Spencer Technology Academy, will be one of the first locations during Fresh Moves’ soft launch beginning on May 25, and Jackson is thrilled.

“There’s a difference between providing awareness and providing resources,” Jackson said. “What they’re doing is ingenious.”

But before the bus hits the street in a mere month, Muhammad said they will be working to further develop awareness and create a bigger buzz with street teams and more fundraising.

“The milk man and ice cream truck is something we’re moving back to,” Muhammad said. “But we would really like to spur more development in these communities that have been historically excluded. We’d love to have several buses out there in a year if there’s a need.”

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