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Mobile grocery store rolls into St. Louis food desert this summer

St. Louis MetroMarket President Jeremy Goss, SLU Department Chair Millie Mattfeldt-Beman and HOSCO CEO Gibron Burchett are working together to implement a grant from Incarnate Word Foundation to reduce food insecurity.
Maggie Rotermund | Courtesy Saint Louis University

A retrofitted city bus full of fresh local food is slated to roll into the JeffVanderLou neighborhood of north St. Louis this July.

The mobile farmers’ market is designed to combat the health problems associated with food deserts by bringing fresh produce, fish, meat and other staples to low-income areas that don’t have grocery stores. The food will be sold on a sliding pay scale.

The project is called St. Louis MetroMarket, and it is the brainchild of Washington University graduates Colin Dowling and Tej Azad and Saint Louis University medical student Jeremy Goss.

“St. Louis has these farmers' markets that are great and I love them and the food is fresh and when you get there you’re just enamored by the variety, and many of the products are very cheap and affordable,” said Goss. “But they’re only in the pockets of the city that they’re in and many of them aren’t in the communities that really could use them.”

St. Louis MetroMarket recently received a $75,000 grant from the Incarnate Word Foundation to launch the grocery-store-on-wheels, and Metro has donated the bus.

According to Goss, all the components are now in place to get started.

“We’ll still need to take on some corporate sponsorships and we’ll still need to consider outside donations. This is one of what we hope are many grants that we’re successful in winning,” said Goss, who is deferring graduation and residency for a year to launch the nonprofit. “But we’re confident that with the $75,000 we’re going to be on track to launch this July.”

Part of St. Louis MetroMarket’s plan for sustainability is to sell corporate memberships to the mobile farmer’s market as well as memberships inside food deserts. That way some of the groceries can be sold at market price rather than at or just below cost.

Saint Louis University and HOSCO Farms are collaborating with Goss for the Incarnate Word grant, helping him connect to food producers and offering training in cooking and urban farming.

SLU Department of Nutrition and Dietetics Chair Millie Mattfeldt-Beman said offering taste-tests and cooking lessons on-site will help ensure the success of the project by introducing people to healthy food.

“People don’t recognize them for the different types of fruits and vegetables that they are. And they don’t know how to prepare them. And if you don’t recognize them and you don’t know how to prepare them, you’re not very likely to eat them,” Mattfeldt-Beman explained.

According to Mattfeldt-Beman, St. Louis has 15 food deserts as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ending food insecurity is a core mission for her department, and it has several projects to bring sustainable food economies into low-income areas.

“If you look at the leading causes of death, 13 of them are related to the food you eat,” she said. “So if you’re going to impact obesity, if you’re going to impact diabetes, heart disease, cancer … you need to address getting people healthy food. Which in most cases translates to more fruits and vegetables.”

St. Louis MetroMarket starts this summer in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood, which no longer has a full-sized grocery store. The Schnucks on North Grand Boulevard closed in May 2014. The neighborhood is bound by North Vandeventer Avenue, Natural Bridge Avenue, North Jefferson Avenue, Delmar Boulevard, North Compton Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.