Big Green Truck Delivers Healthy Bounty
When the big green truck pulls up in front of Castle Family Health Center, director Ed Trujillo can only smile.
The brightly colored truck painted with dancing vegetables and a smiling cow may seem funny, but the Produce on the Go mobile farmers market is helping to solve a serious problem.
Merced is one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the state of California. Yet the farmers who work this land have limited access to the bounty of fruits and vegetables they grow and ship to other areas of the country. As a result, nearly half the children, and one-third of all residents in the county are overweight or obese, according to a study by the University of California at Los Angeles.
Though Merced is one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the state of California, many of the local farmers have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for their families. Produce on the Go is helping to address this issue while also supporting the local economy.
Seeing this need, Don and Nancy Bergman launched their mobile market and selected specific stops in the area’s “food deserts”—communities located more than a mile from the nearest grocery store, where low-income residents have limited transportation options.
Stops include many of the local schools and senior centers, thus making it as easy as possible for families to find nutritious foods. They also partnered with local health clinics. So, when doctors at Castle Health Center talk to their patients about better nutrition, they know that these folks need only step right outside to start changing their diet.
“When I see a family there together shopping, with the mother buying fruit for them, I just smile inside. I say that’s just wonderful. It’s exactly what we need to do, what we set out to do, and it’s accomplishing our goals,” said Don.
Don came out of his third retirement to join with his wife Nancy and launch Produce on the Go. With financing provided by Capital Impact Partners, their mobile market is helping address the “food dessert” that had previously plagued this area of central California.
The impact of Don and Nancy’s mobile market helps support the local economy in a real way. Many of the fruits and vegetables they sell are purchased directly from local farmers, creating a virtuous cycle of financial and social impact.
“I’m hoping this teaches them that when mom shops healthy, mom feeds us healthy…you break the cycle of bad things, and you start the cycle of good things,” said customer and mom Maribel Baron.
When Don and Nancy needed funding for their project they turned to the California FreshWorks Fund managed by Capital Impact Partners. The fund is set up with the specific mission of ending food deserts in California.
Among its many stops, Produce on the Go includes community health centers, schools and senior centers to ensure that those residents can benefit from this important service.
“In every project we do, we think beyond credit risk. We think about social impact—the importance to the people these projects are reaching and the kinds of outcomes and benefits that are going to come from them,” said Scott Sporte, chief lending officer at Capital Impact. “Don and Nancy were good candidates for a project like this, because they were clearly committed to it. They were fully invested in seeing that food got to the places that needed it most.”
Since its launch in 2013, Produce on the Go has expanded from five to 18 sites and now serves 14,000 people.
All pictures © 2015 Capital Impact Partners / Frank Martinez