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Shoppers Without Borders: Boise's New Mobile Market

Bringing fresh produce even closer to the people


On June 8, 2015, the Mobile Market hit the road for the first time. Eileen Stachowski had parked the boxy, refrigerated trailer in the shade near the Latah Village Apartments in Boise's Bench neighborhood, where she munched on locally grown snap peas and talked about her careers, camping and her interest in local food.

A former aeronautical engineer, Stachowski got tired of the long hours and cycle of moving to new cities every few months. Her real passion, she said, is feeding the hungry. As manager of the Mobile Market, that's exactly what she's doing. The market is rolling to parks and apartment complexes across Boise during the summer, selling fresh fruits and vegetables sourced from the Boise Farmers Market.

"We believe local food should be available to all Idahoans, and systematically it's not," she said.

The Mobile Market takes aim at communities with low access to fresh, local produce and will continue making appearances at area parks and apartment complexes through Wednesday, Sept. 30. At the market, those with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can use their EBT cards to purchase produce provided by farmers affiliated with the Boise Farmers Market. The city of Boise will match every dollar, up to $10, spent using SNAP benefits.

The project brings together a number of familiar ideas—food trucks, social services, public-private partnerships, parks and access to locally grown foods—that have coalesced into a vehicle (pun intended) for a larger plan to make Boise a healthier place to live.

"Access to fresh fruits and vegetables are a key component to a healthy community, but [the Boise Farmers Market] is centrally located in a place where people can't always get to," said Boise City Councilman TJ Thomson, who, at a June 2 City Council meeting, secured $20,000 from the Strategic Initiatives Fund for matching SNAP benefits.

The Mobile Market fits into Thomson's Healthy Boise Initiatives 2.0, which had included a plan to limit students' access to fast food that was ultimately scrubbed. Thomson has also backed a proposal to score pre-kindergarten programs on how much time children spend in front of televisions and how much fresh food they eat, making the scores available to parents.

To Thomson, the appeal of matching SNAP funds used to make purchases at the Mobile Market is that it helps incentivize the purchase of fresh foods among a population that too often doesn't have access to them.

"What I want to do is increase the buying power of those low-income families," he said.

A food truck-type operation also fits the needs of the Boise Farmers Market. BFM and Mobile Market organizer Janie Burns echoed Thomson's observation that the market's fixed location near the center of the city makes its hard to access for those who live in areas other than the Bench and North End.

"It made a lot of sense for the Boise Farmers Market to expand out of its stationary position," she said. "A lot of people don't come downtown and we need to do a bit more outreach."

The idea came from employees of the Boise Parks and Recreation Department, who told Burns about its mobile recreation van, which for more than six years has taken recreational opportunities to Boise neighborhoods. Because the van's target locations happen to be in so-called "food deserts"—areas that have a comparative lack of access to fresh foods, either due to poverty or distance from grocery stores—"it was suggested that produce could travel into these neighborhoods and match recreation opportunities and food opportunities," Burns said.

For Stachowski, the question is whether people will turn out to make purchases at the Mobile Market. On its first day, she said approximately 20 people came to the market when it stopped at Oak Park Village, the first three of whom paid with SNAP benefits. Based on her research into similar programs around the county, Stachowski said she expects more than 25 percent of purchases at the market to be made with SNAP benefits by the end of the summer. Stachowski said she was encouraged by the turnout.

"People were really excited about the food stamp match," she said.