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Fresh Produce Wheels Into Chicago

The Fresh Moves bus brings fruits and vegetables to the city's underserved areas.
June 22, 2011

CHICAGO - The new mayor of Chicago has more on his mind than municipal issues. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to fix the problem of the city��s so-called "food deserts," Huffington Post Chicago reports. For a large number of city residents, fresh fruit and vegetables are out of reach because of the physical distance to the nearest grocery store.

Food deserts �" so-called the areas are located far away from the closets fresh foods �" have become a serious health crisis, contributing to diet-related diseases and illnesses. The mayor��s "Food Desert Summit" strove to fix the problem by asking large supermarkets to open stores in underserved areas.

However, a trio of entrepreneurs had another idea: bring the produce to the residents. Sheelah Muhammad, Steven Casey and Jeff Pinzino run Fresh Moves, a mobile grocery store housed in a bus.

"We talked to a couple of grocers, and realized that bricks and mortar wasn't the quickest solution, that the barriers to entry were too great," said Muhammad, board secretary at Fresh Moves. "We wanted a solution that was more flexible, that met the needs of more residents in more communities."

The three had assistance from the Chicago Transit Authority (donated a bus), Architecture for Humanity (converted the bus) and EPIC (built the website). Last month, the bus started its routes that ran twice a week with three stops each day. The demand quickly outstripped their expectations. The bus served more than 600 customers its first five days in operation.

"The first day, it was pouring raining, and we sold out of organic collard greens the first hour," said Dara Cooper, project manager. "We sold out of mangoes, cherry tomatoes, it was amazing."

What doesn��t sell is donated to homeless shelters, but thus far, there hasn��t been many leftovers. Much of the produce is locally sourced and organic, but emphasis is also placed on price. "When you talk about access [to fresh food], part of it is geographic," said Cooper, "but a big part of it is monetary, too."