From health care to personal services, the world becomes increasingly more mobile every day. Food is no exception. With the rise of farmers markets and the push to provide healthy options for everyone despite income level, many key players have joined forces in Little Rock to bring farm fresh produce to those in need.
And talk about putting an old city bus to good use. Once relegated to public transportation, a Little Rock municipal bus has been turned into a mobile farmers market. The “Fresh2You” bus can hardly be missed with its vibrant wrap of produce images.
The bus was parked at 19th and Arch streets in downtown Little Rock last week as a trial run before the initiative officially kicks off on Tuesday. Parked by Parris Towers – a public housing community – the bus was filled with produce provided by Raising Arkansas, a minority farmers collective.
The daily specials included sweet corn, three for a $1; sweet potatoes, $.50 per pound; tomatoes, $1 per pound; and blueberries, $2 per pound.
Next to the bus was a tent featuring Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance’s Cooking Matters program. Representatives Alex Handfinger and Maggie Peach happily offered cantaloupe samples to passersby.
“We’re all working together to help people access healthy food,” said Tomiko Townley with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. She helps people throughout the state realize their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. “Food stamps” is the former term for SNAP.
The Fresh2You initiative accepts SNAP dollars, Townley said.
Increasing access to healthy foods is a key priority of both the Alliance and Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide initiative endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that is designed to improve the health of all Arkansans. The initiative is divided into nine priority areas, each having two-, five- and 10-year goals.
Alliance Executive Director Kathy Webb serves as the co-team lead for one of Healthy Active Arkansas’ priority areas: Access to Healthy Foods.
“The Fresh2You mobile farmers market helps us meet four of our goals within the Access to Healthy Foods priority area,” Webb said.
“It’s a great public/private partnership,” Webb said.
Inside the bus last week was Johnny Pitts, founder of Raising Arkansas.
“Our goal is to help local growers and build them up,” he said.
The organization operates a year-round farm in Sheridan and works all over the state to reach out to farmers, Pitts said.
“We’re working on establishing a new food chain and getting farmers to work together.”
Pitts is more than ready to continue working with this initiative. The plan is to park the bus on given days to provide produce and help promote the hunger alliance’s Cooking Matters program.
The six-week course is free and held at different locations in partnership with different organizations, said Lynne Phillips, development director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
“We’re teaching people how to shop and cook healthily on a budget,” she said, pointing to the featured menu cards.
The Fresh2You bus will be parked at Parris Towers every Tuesday and at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center on Saturdays. A hope is to one day serve the housing authority downtown, Townley said.
A press conference will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday to officially launch the mobile farmers market, followed by the market opening at 10.