Couple Launching Mobile Market To Ease Twin Cities’ Food Disparity
Husband and wife Mike and Leah Driscoll come from similar backgrounds: They grew up poor in rural areas, graduated from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and both share a passion for food and the community.
“I think we’re both just driven by a desire to see justice for everybody,” Leah said. “We definitely know what it’s like to not have a lot of resources.”
Their backgrounds and common passion prompted the couple to create the Twin Cities Mobile Market to help address the problem of food disparity in the Twin Cities. According to Business Insider, the Twin Cities rank in the top five when it comes to food deserts in urban areas.
“[My dad] was laid off for a couple of years and we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t have help from neighbors and the church,” Mike said. “That’s what got us through, just a little bit of help and some assistance.”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market is getting help from the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation and others seeking to improve the health of people living in low-income areas who lack of easy access to grocery stores. Leah, who works for the foundation, explained in an email: “Wilder is providing some infrastructure and evaluation support, but the rest of our budget is being raised entirely through a combination of food sales, private and government grants, individual donations, and in-kind donations (e.g., we’re getting fuel donated by Yocum Oil; branding and marketing materials development from The Shinebox; and our bus wrap donated from 3M and Vomela).”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market plans to serve areas in St. Paul, including Frogtown, the East Side, North End and West Side. The couple plans to expand Mobile Market into Minneapolis later this year.
“Food access is a constant, not something that can be addressed once a month,” Leah said. “We’re not a delivery service and we’re not a food shelf. We’re a grocery store on wheels that’s selling food at affordable prices. There’s definitely a gap in the continuum that we’re trying to address.”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market is planning to launch sometime at the end of August and run a few times before they unveil their grand opening in September.
Idea started as university project
The idea for Mobile Market began to take shape in the fall of 2012 while Leah was working on her graduate capstone project at Hamline University’s School of Business. She researched food deserts in the Twin Cities, and later she and Mike concluded a mobile bus would help ease the problem.
“It went from a restaurant to maybe a food truck… it just got more and more to: ‘We’re not anything for profit here, let’s just do something creative or innovative that can help people,’” Mike said. “For now, have our full-time jobs to be [about] assist[ing] others to have access to healthy foods.”
Mobile Market will sell fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy items, meat and dry goods with the goal of providing products to create healthy meals at affordable prices.
They plan to offer a variety of foods to a diverse population. The couple gathered data through various forms of research, from analyzing food-desert locator maps to community engagement. They’ve used the data to create a database for Mobile Market.
“We’re trying to be as culturally responsive in the food we have,” Leah said.
Essentially, they’ve created a guide to tell them which food is most likely to be desired in certain communities and which times would be convenient for those customers to shop at the market.
“We’re proactively reaching out to let as many people know where we’ll be and when, and we’ll use the communication channels of our host sites to do this,” Leah said.
Engage in communities
They plan on stopping one to three hours at a designated location; the times will vary depending on traffic and the schedule of the communities they’re serving. They also plan to engage in the communities they serve by visiting area churches, schools, public-housing highrises and community centers.
“We want communities to use the mobile market as a community thing, a community gathering and community-building thing,” Mike said.
Mike said after they launch they’re looking to add other services, including providing recipes and cooking tips, as well as cooking demos and food samplings. They also hope to partner with other food companies some day.
“It’s been cool to see the community response,” Leah said. “The more that we’ve been doing community outreach and community events, we’ve done about 20 of them, the more we’re affirmed that it’s the right thing to do, people want it and are excited about it.”