Calgary

This bus is actually a grocery store, bringing healthy food where it's needed most

Instead of bringing commuters to their destination, this bus brings the opportunity to purchase healthy and affordable groceries to food deserts.

Fresh Routes retrofitted a Calgary Transit bus to create the social enterprise

This mobile grocery store will bring healthy food, sold at below-market prices, to Calgary communities where it's needed. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

It looks like a regular city bus on the outside, other than the decals of carrots, radishes and bananas brightening its sides.

But instead of bringing commuters to their destination, this bus brings the opportunity to purchase healthy and affordable groceries to neighbourhoods where it's needed most. 

Fresh Routes' bus service officially launches Monday as Calgary's first mobile grocery store.

Fresh Routes was first started in February as an off-shoot of the non-profit Leftovers Foundation, which works to keep good food from ending up in the landfill.

A fix for food deserts

It brought pop-up grocery markets around the city, selling produce and other items at lowered prices to areas without easy access to affordable healthy food — also known as food deserts.

The produce sells for 40 to 60 per cent below market prices.

"We were finding that food access needs were so great in our city that we expanded it what we have today, which is a mobile grocery store," co-founder Lourdes Juan said.

Everything from income, to time constraints, access to transportation and even the weather can hamper people's ability to access food — barriers Fresh Routes hopes to remove.

"I think we need more of these types of solutions to these complex problems we've created for ourselves," Juan said.

The store was built inside a retrofitted Calgary Transit bus, which first hit the road in 1995. Some details, like the bus' non-stick floors were kept. 

On Sunday, the shelves and baskets of the bus were empty, waiting to be filled.

"I don't know exactly how much food we can put in this thing yet, but I'm sure we'll figure it out," Juan said.

Lourdes Juan is a co-founder of Fresh Routes. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

All of the containers inside are removable — so staff will still have the option to take baskets of food out and set up pop-up markets indoors.

"The idea behind the design was modular, we can make it our own," said co-founder — and soon to be bus driver — Rob Ironside.

And in the spring, they'll be installing a refrigeration system.

The project has cost the non-profit about $50,000, with plenty of groups pitching in to work pro-bono to get the bus built.

Fresh Routes is also launching a grocery service in Edmonton this week, where it will be hosting pop-ups out of a one-ton truck.

You can find the mobile grocery store's schedule on the Fresh Routes website.

With files from Terri Trembath

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