Market Mobile brings fresh, healthy and affordable food to Laroche Park

Story and photos by Jacob Hoytema – 

Every second Wednesday evening, Mechanicsville residents have been heading to Laroche Park to shop at Ottawa’s grocery store on wheels.

Market Mobile is a project started by several community health centres in Ottawa to help ensure that residents are getting food that is both healthy and affordable.

The market is in fact a trailer fitted with wooden shelves and stocked with fresh produce that makes stops at eight different locations around the city.

Organizers say they have been trying to grow their customer base in the area, through posters and social media and most effectively through word of mouth. [story continues below]

The Market Mobile pulling into Laroche Park from Stonehurst Ave.
The Market Mobile pulling into Laroche Park from Stonehurst Ave.
After opening up shop, Market Mobile workers await the first customers. From left to right: volunteers Rakesh Misra and Marc Duclos, project officer Shannon Szkurhan, and volunteer Tracy Facchin. Market Mobile will continue to visit Laroche Park until the end of December. The next visit will be Nov. 4.
After opening up shop, Market Mobile workers await the first customers. From left to right: volunteers Rakesh Misra and Marc Duclos, project officer Shannon Szkurhan, and volunteer Tracy Facchin. Market Mobile will continue to visit Laroche Park until the end of December. The next visit will be Nov. 4.
 A customer peruses through Market Mobile’s produce.
A customer peruses through Market Mobile’s produce.

Janelle Vandergrift, a health promoter with the Somerset West Community Health Centre and the organizer for Market Mobile’s Laroche Park visits, says that Mechanicsville fits the description of the type of neighbourhood that Market Mobile tries to target: one where healthy food is not readily available.

“Often there’s convenience stores, but they  don’t have fruits and vegetables and the prices can be fairly expensive,” she says.

Through a deal with Loblaws, Market Mobile buys their food at a near-wholesale price and then sells it to their customers for no profit.

Shannon Szkurhan, the project officer who runs the entire Market Mobile operation, says that there are some myths that need to be debunked about the initiative — namely that it is an option only for people with low incomes. She says she wants people of all income brackets to shop at the market.

One customer, who has been visiting the market for several months, says that its volunteers and workers are very friendly.

“You get to know the people here week after week,” she says.

Market Mobile started in Ottawa over a year ago with a six-month pilot project. Using a grant from Ottawa Public Health, various community health centres teamed up and borrowed a 40-foot OC Transpo bus on Saturdays, which travelled to four locations around the city. This model was based on previously existing projects in other North American cities.

Assembling and disassembling a grocery store inside a bus every week proved inefficient, however. After receiving a $125,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Market Mobile team purchased a Ford F-150 and a 28-foot trailer and hired a full-time project officer as well as a couple of part-time drivers.

The organizers hope to receive more funding from Ontario’s Trillium foundation. Kaitrin Doll, a worker with the coalition of health centres that started Market Mobile, says that the new funding will go into making sure the project stays consistent with the type of service it has already established.

“Our goal is to go deeper into the communities that we’re already serving rather than expand out,” she explains.

The Market Mobile will continue to visit Laroche Park until the end of December. The next visit will be on Nov. 4.

Szkurhan says that if they receive enough funding, the organizers hope to have the project continue in January 2016.

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