By Sam Worley. Photo by: Sam Worley.
“Do you all have a CD player in here?” Tiffany Watkins asked, climbing onto the bus. School was out and she was in high spirits. She had some music she wanted to share, but alas: no player.
So Watkins got to shopping. The Fresh Moves bus, loaded with produce, was parked on a street on the south side of Chicago outside Westcott Elementary School, where Watkins teaches preschoolers, and she was popping in on her way home to see what was available. The walls of the bus were lined with bins that held kale and mustard greens, Honeycrisp and Cortland apples, cherry tomatoes and avocados. A refrigerated section offered salad mixes and fresh herbs: thyme, oregano, sage.
At the front, at checkout, Fresh Moves program manager Fresh Roberson was explaining to a young man how he should cook his dinner. He’d bought a handful of ingredients with a vegetable soup in mind, but other than that was relying on Roberson to tell him what to do.
“You’re gonna chop up your onions, your carrots, some garlic,” Roberson said while the man took notes on his phone. “The stem of the broccoli—peel it a little bit with the peeler and then chop it up. You’re gonna put your carrot, your onions, your garlic, and some thyme—you could take it off the stem or you could put the whole thing in there—and let that sauté and sweat for a while.” Add chicken stock, put the broccoli florets in last because they cook faster, and finish it with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Having gotten enough ingredients for two separate dinners, the young man paid $10.13 and left. “Beats Walmart by a lot,” he said on his way out. A rush of students poured into the bus, most putting down money for the “after-school special”: little bags of strawberries or red or green grapes at 50 cents a pop.
A crossing guard in a bright yellow vest popped his head in. “Feed the people!” he shouted. “We need y’all!”
A crossing guard in a bright yellow vest popped his head in. “Feed the people!” he shouted.
Feeding the people is indeed the idea. An initiative of Growing Power, a food-justice organization located chiefly in Milwaukee and Chicago, Fresh Moves aims to address a persistent, thorny problem in Chicago's poor, mostly black neighborhoods: a lack of grocery stores selling affordable fresh produce.
Chicago is deeply segregated along racial lines, with poverty concentrated in African-American neighborhoods on the city's south and west sides. According to the Brookings Institution, majority-white census tracts in Chicago are home to fewer than 10 percent of families in poverty, whereas more than 30 percent of families live in poverty in majority-black census tracts. And despite recent high-profile supermarket openings—there’s a new Whole Foods in Englewood, for instance—much of Chicago's south and west sides lack good grocery options.
So Fresh Moves endeavors to connect people in underserved neighborhoods with fresh, affordable produce—when possible, produce from Growing Power itself. The organization was founded in 1993 with the mission of providing “equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities,” which it pursues through a laundry list of activities, including training farmers, providing nutrition education and cooking classes, running after-school programs, and selling produce and grass-fed meat. (Growing Power’s founder, Will Allen, received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008.)
This isn’t the first time Fresh Moves buses have hit the Chicago streets, but it’s the first time the program is operating under the aegis of Growing Power, which rebooted the program in 2015. In previous iterations it’d run into trouble finding a sustainable funding model, but Roberson thinks the way it’s currently being run has promise: at least for a while, the city is kicking in money for gas and maintenance, while Fresh Moves applies for foundation grants and receives support from corporate partners, like Sweetgreen and Barilla.
It helps to grow your own food, too, of course; typically 90 percent of what's sold on the Fresh Moves buses comes from Growing Power's own urban fields. (The rest is produce like bananas.)
Fresh Moves has two buses—one that used to be a Chicago Public Library bookmobile, the other having enjoyed a former life as a Chicago Transit Authority bus.
Currently Fresh Moves comprises two buses—one that used to be a Chicago Public Library bookmobile, the other having enjoyed a former life as a Chicago Transit Authority bus. They operate on a schedule, parking for an hour or two a time at prearranged spots all over the south and west sides. That day outside Westcott Elementary, Roberson was talking up a special on some pasta donated by Barilla: Anyone who bought five bucks’ worth of groceries could get a pound of pasta for free.
Tiffany Watkins took the offer. She bought out all the rest of the kale on the bus—five bunches—and also took home two bunches of mustard greens, two regular tomatoes, some cherry tomatoes, some small sweet peppers, a red bell pepper, and a green bell pepper. For all that she paid $13.97.
“We’re observing Lent,” she said, standing on the sidewalk outside the bus. “We’ve been doing a lot of fruits and vegetables.” She’d cook the greens with a little meat for flavor—some smoked turkey—and serve them with chicken breast and mixed vegetables, including squash, left over from last week’s Fresh Moves haul. Her husband has diabetes, Watkins said, and so they’ve been looking for healthier options for snacking, like cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers. Her husband loves the peppers, she said. “As soon as I come home with this stuff, he tears my bag open,” Watkins said. “Like, what do you have?”
This story originally appeared on Epicurious.
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