By Megan Northcote
Ten years ago, abandoned grocery carts left near entrances to public housing complexes dotted the rural landscape in Greeneville, Tenn. Lacking public transportation and deterred by hilly terrain, residents were too often discouraged to return their carts to the nearest grocery store after their weekly shopping trip.
In 2005, that all changed with Greeneville’s first Mobile Farmers Market. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the project is an initiative of Rural Resources, a nonprofit focused on connecting farms, food and families with sustainable practices throughout Greene County.
Now in its 10th year, this market on wheels delivers 1,700 pounds of locally grown, fresh food to more than 200 individuals each week — including those living in public or elderly housing — who otherwise would not have access.
“We live in a food desert here where there are not a lot of choices for eating fresh food,” says Rhonda Hensley, market manager and an Appalachia CARES/Americorps member. “I love educating people about the goodness of eating local, fresh food that comes from the earth.”
Each week, customers place their food order online. Volunteers then fill boxes with produce from Rural Resources’ own on-site community farm, as well as meat, eggs and honey provided by local farmers, and baked goods and casseroles prepared by the nonprofit’s Farm & Food Teen Training program. On Thursdays, the mobile market makes deliveries to designated drop-off locations, primarily serving low-income housing areas; the program has seen purchases with electronic food stamps quadruple since the first year.
For Hensley, introducing children to healthier foods and watching their eating habits change makes her job immeasurably rewarding.
“I love filling kids’ hands with blueberries or giving them a piece of kale to taste for the first time,” Hensley says. “This food is so delicious. There’s no comparison to processed foods.”
The mobile market has even empowered clients to grow their own food by providing 60 garden containers and helping one neighborhood start a community garden.
As the program grows, Hensley is planning for local restaurants, hospitals and hotels to turn to the mobile market for fresh, healthy food supplements for their menus.
For more information, visit ruralresources.locallygrown.net or call Hensley at 423-470-4047.