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Healthy Food Comes to Hartford’s Neighborhoods – On Wheels


The Hartford Mobile Market is a moveable oasis of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in the food deserts of Hartford, Connecticut’s capital. After hitting the road last December at the start of one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record, the market is gaining customers in a city with only one full-service supermarket.

The colorfully painted 1998 International transit bus has been refitted inside to carry baskets of produce. It is a joint initiative of the Hartford Food System, which is working to fight hunger and improve nutrition in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, and the Hispanic Health Council, which works to improve the health of Latinos. The impetus for the project grew out of neighborhood research by the Hispanic Health Council that showed residents had a difficult time finding healthy food.

Petrina Davis, who lives and works in Hartford, was buying strawberries and bananas on a recent day when the mobile market was at a stop in Frog Hollow, the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where the survey was conducted. “It’s definitely an awesome idea,” Davis said. “I can get fresh fruits and vegetables right here in the neighborhood.”

That day, the market was stocked with a variety of healthy offerings, including zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, corn, blueberries, mangoes, plums, eggplant, chard, turnip and collard greens, and plantains.

The market makes weekly stops at 11 locations in several Hartford low-income neighborhoods where it is most difficult to find fresh produce, according to Pauline Zaldonis, the Mobile Market Coordinator, who also works for the Hartford Food System as a policy analyst. A former AmeriCorps volunteer, Zaldonis earned a master’s degree in urban policy analysis and management from the New School in New York City.

For now, the Hartford Mobile Market is in a 15-month pilot program phase, but the nonprofit hopes to remain a permanent feature in Hartford’s food landscape. The need for improved nutrition is stark. One of the poorest cities in the country, Hartford has both high poverty and food insecurity levels, as well as a high rate of obesity, especially among children. A 2012 University of Connecticut study found that Hartford’s population was the most at risk for food insecurity among all 169 municipalities in the state.

“Our goal is to provide access to healthy food while also supporting local growers,” Zaldonis said. “We are dependent on grant funding at this point, but we’re trying to generate enough revenue from sales to sustain it long term.”

The main funding to launch the market came from Hartford Hospital and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. The project also received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support locally grown fruits and vegetables – defined as produce sold within 400 miles of where it is grown.

Zaldonis said she purchases much of the produce inventory from area growers and wholesalers, and tries to keep prices as affordable as possible for customers. The market accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits for payment, as well as cash and debit cards.

The market is planning to begin nutrition education at all of the stops and expects to start a community outreach campaign to spread the word about the fresh produce offered in the targeted neighborhoods.

For more information, visit their website.