BIA wants seed money for mobile farmers’ market

A proposal to roll out a mobile farmers’ market is looking for traction with city funding.

The Ottawa Street BIA wants to launch a two-year pilot that would stock a food truck with local fruits and vegetables to sell in neighbourhoods lacking easy access to fresh food.

The BIA needs an estimated $216,000.

“As a BIA, we can’t go into debt, so we can’t ask for loans,” said Patty Hayes, executive director.

Hayes says there is a provincial agriculture grant available but it can’t be applied for until 50 per cent of the project’s base funding is in place. The idea is for the mobile market to be selfsufficient, but seed funding is needed for its launch.

“We’re super-pumped about the idea, but it is a risk for us to take.”

The BIA hired a consultant last fall to study the concept. Ottawa Street has become synonymous with the food truck movement with its hugely successful Sew Hungry events, so Hayes says the idea is a perfect fit.

The BIA operates the Ottawa Street Farmers’ Market. The boards of both groups have approved the mobile food truck plan.

Mobile farmers’ markets are more common in the United States, says Hayes, but similar pilots have been launched in Waterloo, Toronto and Vancouver.

The mobile truck would make weekly visits to neighbourhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t readily available — so-called food deserts. Those areas tend to be high needs in terms of poverty rates and poor health.

Councillor Sam Merulla, who represents the Ottawa Street area, made a notice of motion Monday asking his colleagues on the public health board to support the funding request. The matter will come up at the next meeting April 22.

Merulla would like to see the funding come out of public health’s local food grant, with any shortfall being funded by reserves.

The BIA’s proposal is to work with the city staff, school boards and community groups to establish a route. The truck could also make visits to post-secondary campuses, seniors’ complexes and events, says Hayes.

She stresses the educational component of the plan. The project would teach basic food literacy and nutrition and promote locally grown food.

The organization already has its sights set on a food truck to buy and has formed a small team to move forward once funding is in place.

Paul Johnson, director of neighbourhood development strategies for the city, says food access has been a recurring theme in direct discussions with residents.

“There are areas where transportation and locations for healthy food is a barrier. For some families, it’s a major logistical challenge to get fresh foods. And affordability is an issue, too.”

He says a mobile produce retailer would be a good addition to other options, including urban farms and community gardens.

“It all adds up. I love it when these ideas percolate out and solutions come to neighbourhoods. I know the neighbourhoods will embrace it.”

Hamilton Community Foundation CEO Terry Cooke says evidence shows that direct outreach has better outcomes for residences of high-needs areas.

“This kind of thing is lowering the barrier because it’s reaching out to those in vulnerable and atrisk communities. Many individuals in our community are suffering from an inadequate diet
because it’s a challenge to get access to affordable high-quality food.”
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