This April Preston’s Paradise and Greensgrow Farms plan to launch the West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub, a mobile grocery store that will serve Lancaster Avenue and the surrounding communities.
“Preston’s Paradise has been running a push cart market for about five years now, and we were looking for a way to scale up and be a more consistent access point to fresh food in our neighborhood,” said Ryan Kuck, West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub project manager.
“The concept is to be a grocery store more than a farmers’ market,” he said.
The West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub will be located along Lancaster Avenue, likely between 37th and 40th streets, four days per week and will travel to senior housing communities, block parties and community events at least one day per week.
The truck will sell everything from flour and rice to peanut butter, milk, eggs and fresh produce and vegetables. It will offer both conventional food options and local, organic options.
“The reason it’s in a truck is not necessarily to be mobile,” Kuck said. “It’s more [because it’s] a cheaper route to do that than to open a brick and mortar store, and it allows us to see where that sweet spot is in the neighborhood of getting a mixed income, mixed demographic - making sure we’re serving everybody.”
In this joint effort by Greensgrow Farms - a local, urban agriculture organization - and Preston’s Paradise - a West Philadelphia-based, all-volunteer, community resilience project - Greensgrow will provide its existing network of supplies, transportation and business management abilities, and Preston’s Paradise will run the truck itself. After a three-year test period, Preston’s Paradise will likely takeover and manage all of the logistics.
Last year, Greensgrow Farms launched a similar mobile grocery store with community-based partners in Camden, New Jersey.
Community engagement and education are central to both the Camden model and the West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub’s mission, Kuck said.
By partnering with People’s Emergency Center, Drexel University and local groups such as the Urban Nutrition Initiative, the food hub will host workshops, events and health screenings.
Working with local partners has benefits for the entire community, Kuck said.
“People view our neighborhoods as deficient, as lacking in resources,” he said, “but really there [are] a lot of strengths here, and we’re hoping to be another link between what’s already happening… so that we’re all enlisted instead of feeling like someone from the outside has to come in and fix our neighborhood.”
The West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub will offer traditional purchasing options as well as bulk orders that can be placed online and picked up weekly and various CSA options. The truck will accept SNAP Access Cards, Double Value Coupons and WIC, and it will offer to purchase produce from backyard growers and community gardens looking to sell their surplus.
Kuck said he wants people to know that, “this is addressing a legitimate need and not just talking about fresh food being this moral priority, but that it’s really a demand that exists in the neighborhood that’s not currently being met.”
“It’s the equity of choice,” he said. “I think right now people aren’t given the opportunity to make an educated choice, and so we’re trying to level the playing field a little bit and make sure they have that equity of access and equity of information.”