Innovation Ecosystem

Shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables as a community building exercise

Food on the Move celebrates its sixth anniversary with a community breakfast at Dexter Manor

Photo by Richard Asinof

Any Nunn, left, executive director of the R.I. Public Health Institute, and right, Andrew Sigal CEO of Tourtellot and Co., shopping with a resident of Dexter Manor a the mobile market, Food on the Move, at the recent community breakfast celebration.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/10/18
Residents at Dexter Manor were thrilled to join in the community breakfast celebration on Thursday, Sept. 6, to celebrate the six-year anniversary of the partnership between Food on the Move and its mobile market and the Providence Housing Authority.
How important is shopping at the mobile market as a social activity for residents of public housing? What are the opportunities to scale up the operation in Rhode Island? Is there an opportunity to create cooking classes as part of the partnership with Food on the Move, bringing in local chefs to the public housing complexes?
At a time when markets are consolidating under the umbrella of convenience, with Walmart and Amazon, after its purchase of Whole Foods, becoming major players in how consumers buy their fresh fruits and vegetables, the importance of shopping as a social activity, whether done at local farmer’s markets, interacting with local growers, or as part of mobile markets such as Food on the Move, becomes a potential key component in strategies to create an engaged community of conversation and convergence.

PROVIDENCE – Food on the Move, a mobile produce market that visits community locations across Rhode Island, selling low cost, high quality fresh fruits and vegetables, held a community breakfast on Thursday morning, Sept. 6, on the front lawn of Dexter Manor at 100 Broad St., joining with residents of the public housing project to celebrate six years of partnership with the Providence Housing Authority and Tourtellot and Company.

Food on the Move, an initiative of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, began in 2012 as an effort to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables as a public health clinical research trial supported by NIH. The effort now serves more than 5,000 customers annually at some 35 “mobile markets” each month. A potential expansion is under consideration, depending upon the potential to secure additional resources.

Research has found that some 13 percent of Rhode Islanders are food insecure; in the low-income communities that Food on the Move serves, closer to 30 percent are food insecure. Initial studies have found that the people who regularly shop the mobile markets significantly increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they eat.

The R.I. Public Health Institute is now conducting research on how the program efforts to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption may affect health outcomes and health care costs. The findings from the study are to be published sometime in 2019.

Melissa Sanzaro, the executive director of the Providence Housing Authority, told ConvergenceRI at the community breakfast that one of the reasons for the success of the program was that it broke down the barriers of limited access “that our public housing residents may have to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Sanzaro also attributed the success of Food on the Move to the sense of community it had created as part of shopping at the market. “I think with our elderly and disabled [residents in] high rises, being social and getting to know your neighbors is sometimes not as easy as it sounds in a condensed community like this,” she said. Food on the Move, Sanzaro said, really brings the community out.

A key community partner
Andrew Sigal, the CEO of Tourtellot and Co., a fruit and produce distributor based in Warwick, told ConvergenceRI at the community breakfast that he was happy to be a part of the endeavor bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to underserved neighborhoods. In addition to being a vendor for the fruits and vegetables sold at the mobile market, Tourtellot also provides the cold storage space. “It’s a wonderful program with the most wonderful, dedicated people,” he said.

Relationship building
Amy Nunn, the director of the R.I. Public Health Institute, praised the relationship with Tourtellot, saying that the value was not just about buying produce from the distributor.

“They’ve helped us a lot in thinking about marketing, in how to do promotion, in how best to place the fruits and vegetables at the mobile markets – all of the practicalities that the private sector knows about,” Nunn said.

Also, Nunn continued, they’ve allowed us to use their cold storage space, without which, she said, “We wouldn’t be able to do this project.”

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