Next Stop: Fruits and Veggies On Your Doorstep
In central Florida, it is estimated that more than 90,000 residents live in food deserts. Families living in food deserts are often forced to rely on fast food or processed food sold in neighborhood convenience stores. Such limited food options often leads to poor nutrition and an increased risk of health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
In an effort to help Floridians living in such areas, Hebni Nutrition Consultants created the Fresh Stop bus—a mobile farmers market created to serve in-need neighborhoods and offer fresh fruits and vegetables at budget-friendly prices.
“The inspiration of the bus came out of a necessity we saw after conducting a Community Food Assessment in 2009,” said Glen Providence, assistant project manager at Hebni Nutrition Consultants. “That work led us to developing a relationship with a local mom and pop store in the Parramore area of Orlando, where we were able to get grant funding to implement a fresh fruit and vegetables sales in a once vibrant store/neighborhood that was on the decline.”
Founded by three licensed and registered dietitians, Hebni Nutrition Consultants is an Orlando-based non-profit formed in 1995. The organization educates high-risk, culturally diverse populations about nutrition strategies to prevent diet-related diseases, and they primarily serve African-American populations who may be at-risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
The Fresh Stop mobile market launched four months ago. It is a repurposed bus, outfitted with special refrigerated racks for fresh vegetables and fruits. Every two weeks, the bus visits 16 different food desert neighborhoods in central Florida.
“Having a bus like Fresh Stop come to these neighborhoods makes [residents] feel like we care about them. We strive to provide quality produce at reasonable prices,” explains Providence. “Customers enjoy the convenience of shopping ‘at home’ for fresh produce, and it allows them to consume more fresh fruit and vegetables without the hassle of driving out of their neighborhood to grocery stores.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Hebni is ensuring that the Fresh Stop bus is sustainable, and produce sales alone are not enough to make the program self-sustainable. Hebni continues to look for funders and individual donations to assist in the operation of the bus. And, they hope to expand the bus route to the two counties immediately to the north and south of Orlando; Seminole and Osceola counties.
The Fresh Stop bus is having a very positive impact on the communities it serves now. When asked if they’ve received any feedback from residents, one story stands out:
“One of the nicest comments we have received so far is from an elderly woman at a local housing community who said ‘Thank you for loving us.’ Her comment was in response to a stop we made where we did a cooking demonstration and sampled smoothies made from produce on the bus,” Providence shared. “She felt special about the time the bus spent in her neighborhood and was happy to know that her apartment complex was going to be a regular stop on the bus route.”
For more information on the Fresh Stop bus, visit them online.
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