Mobile grocery market launches summer program into Calgary's 'food deserts'

Calgary organization launches project to provide affordable food to communities that lack easy access to it.

Leftovers Foundation project aims to bring affordable food to communities that lack easy access to it

A new mobile grocery truck service launched Tuesday in Calgary. The Community Mobile Market sells fresh vegetables, eggs, and bread at below retail prices in neighbourhoods it deems to be 'food deserts', such as Pineridge, Bridgeland and downtown. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

For a few lucky Calgary communities, going grocery shopping just got turned on its head.

Now, the groceries are coming to the community, rather than the other way around.

On Tuesday, the Leftovers Foundation launched a mobile food truck service that sells — at below market rate prices — groceries to neighbourhoods the organization has identified as "food deserts."

What's a food desert, you ask?

"A food desert in my opinion is a place where people live where they don't have access to nutritious and affordable food," said Lourdes Juan, the founder and executive director of the Calgary non-profit organization.

"When you talk about food deserts, you're looking at places where you perhaps have to drive, to get to your grocery store, which can perhaps be a challenge to some people," Juan said. "Places where you have a seniors population, where there's a mobility issue — we're just trying to make food access really easy for Calgarians."

Tuesday launch

On Tuesday afternoon, that meant a variety of just-over-wholesale priced goods for sale in the northeast Calgary community of Pineridge. Later in the evening, the group moved on to Bridgeland.

The Community Mobile Market will also be making stops in downtown Calgary and Spruce Cliff.

Lourdes Juan is the executive director and founder of the Leftovers Foundation, an organization that has partnered with the City of Calgary to create a mobile grocery truck that brings below-market priced fresh, healthy food to Calgary neighbourhoods every Tuesday through October. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Juan said her organization's goal was pretty straightforward.

"We're really hoping to bring food at budget-friendly prices into communities that don't have that option," Juan said.

Juan worked locally with the social work component of the City of Calgary, which provided a grant to outfit the truck and pay a project coordinator, to zero in on communities where access to inexpensive, fresh food is a challenge for those with mobility issues.

"They've been our 'in' with communities," she said. "They have surveyed residents, so that we know what types of food residents are looking for.

"We want to make sure residents get to choose their food, get to choose how much they buy — and that it's culturally appropriate," Juan said.

Some of the food sold includes green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, black beans, fresh eggs and bread. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Community feedback wanted

The menu at Tuesday's initial mobile market included potatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, black beans, carrots, bread, tomatoes, almond milk and fresh eggs, courtesy of Egg Farmers of Alberta.

Juan wants feedback from the community.

"We want this to be an iterative process where the community is telling us what they need. And [then] we can talk to our vendors and source out those items," she said.

Volunteer-driven organization

At the moment, the organization is volunteer-run — about 300 in total in both Calgary and Edmonton — and Juan is looking for more.

"We're always looking for people power. It really takes a village to run something like this, so we're looking for more volunteers to come out and help run this thing," she said.

She is already looking to expand the distribution area.

"I'd like to see it in other communities," she said. "We've pitched this idea to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and they've given us permits to operate out there — so we are currently looking for volunteers, more funding to go out there, to buy fresh produce and continue the project."

Whether it's the legions of volunteers, area residents, or even various vendors, Juan says that food will always be the glue that brings a community together — food desert or not.

"Food is a community connector. It is something the community will always need. It's important we are servicing one of our basic human rights into the community," she said.

For more information about the Community Mobile Market, go to yyc.rescuefood.ca.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca