The mobile grocery store addresses food deserts in communities

Four million Canadians struggle with food insecurity every year. 

Morgan Allen, the Edmonton lead for Fresh Routes, says, “One point five million people are going a day or more without eating.” 

Allen says, “Despite the abundance of food in Canada, not all Canadians have access to healthy and affordable food. Canadians also face a paradoxical situation where healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are out of economic and geographic reach. Harmful ‘foods’ are cheap and plentiful.” 

Fresh Routes was founded last fall after a four month pilot in partnership with the City of Calgary. Formerly the Community Mobile Food Market, Fresh Routes’ Mobile Grocery Store (MGS) evolved into a year-round initiative. 

The not-for-profit social enterprise focuses on creating new, innovative ways of providing healthy and affordable food to as many Canadians as possible. 

It’s important to note that although their partner organization is Food Rescue, Fresh Routes does charge for the food since they pay for it. Future partnerships with community kitchens may help with the food literacy goal.

Allen says, “The mandate is to increase access to food in three ways: physicality (location), financially (lower costs than big-box grocery stores), and food literacy.”  One woman at Clareview’s launch purchased a bunch of celery, a humongous head of cauliflower, and 10 avocados for $17. 

Working in partnership with communities, the MGS brings healthy, fresh, and affordable food into neighbourhoods facing barriers—allowing choice, maintaining dignity, and building community.

On Oct. 9 from 6:30-8 pm at Clareview Rec Centre, Edmonton had its first Fresh Routes truck stop. Set to recur weekly year-round, there will soon be an additional six to eight locations in the Edmonton pilot phase, including locations in downtown, northeast, and west Edmonton.

If the pilot is successful, Fresh Routes intends to expand across the city into other areas that face barriers to accessing food such as restricted mobility or lower incomes. Even a 10-15 minute walk to a grocery store may be too much for some individuals, so they bridge this gap by bringing affordable food directly to the customer. 

Using the mobile one-tonne refrigerator food truck, volunteers load food purchased at near-wholesale prices from H&W Produce and other local vendors. Once a location and weekly time are established, it will operate continuously. 

Once Fresh Routes has buy-in from residents, they can continue indefinitely. They need 58 transactions each week to be viable. Based on Calgary’s success story and the number of people at their Edmonton launch, their success seems likely.

Allen says, “This one woman was buying the majority of her meals from a fast-food chain located near her home because it was the only option she could physically access. After the mobile grocery store launched in her neighbourhood, she shared with our staff how overjoyed she was to finally have access to the nutritious foods she enjoyed again.”

Featured Image: Sixty per cent of food produced in Canada is wasted. | Rusti Lehay