News

Farmers market on wheels

1/24/13

Boston res­i­dents who live in neigh­bor­hoods lacking access to healthy and afford­able pro­duce may soon be able to pur­chase high-​​quality fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles at a rea­son­able cost. Two alumni are working to con­vert a bus into the Fresh Truck, a social ven­ture that would trans­port healthy food into “food deserts,” or dis­tricts in urban set­tings without wide access to gro­cery stores.

“Regard­less of where you live or how much you make, every­body should be able to choose to be healthy,” said Daniel Clarke, the chief exec­u­tive officer and co-​​founder of Fresh Truck and a 2012 grad­uate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, where he studied finance and entre­pre­neur­ship.

Clarke and fellow co-​​founder Josh Trautwein, the chief mar­keting officer and a 2010 soci­ology grad­uate, have worked closely with IDEA, Northeastern’s student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator, which helped them develop a flex­ible social busi­ness model with a focus on serving the com­mu­nity through acces­sible and afford­able fruits and veg­eta­bles. The two are close to reaching their goal of raising $30,000 on the crowd­funding web­site Kick­starter to buy the bus that would be con­verted to house their mobile pro­duce shop.

Trautwein noted that the startup’s goal is to aug­ment the work of com­mu­nity health orga­ni­za­tions and other local non­profit groups focused on edu­cating res­i­dents about the impor­tance of a healthy diet. They’ve been working with non­profit orga­ni­za­tions and city offi­cials as they get closer to for­mally launching the truck, which they hope will hit the streets a few months after they pur­chase and retrofit it.

“A health center can only do so much and edu­ca­tion pro­grams are only so useful without access to healthy foods,” said Trautwein, who works for the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Insti­tute, a Boston-​​based orga­ni­za­tion that tar­gets bar­riers that restrict youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports and phys­ical activity. “If people have to travel an hour to get to a super­market to do their food shop­ping, they are more likely to buy processed foods that aren’t going to go bad in a week. We’re trying to make fresh food more readily accessible.”

The con­cept for Fresh Truck, which would run on recy­cled veg­etable oil, is designed to make shop­ping for healthy food fun. Its fea­tures, for example, would include a sound system and a stage on the roof to be used for con­certs and per­for­mances during com­mu­nity events. In addi­tion to fresh pro­duce, cus­tomers of Fresh Truck would reg­u­larly enjoy free sam­ples, and recipes to take home.

Infor­ma­tion about where the food for sale comes from—nearly all would be from local whole­salers, Clarke says—would be pro­vided, much like what a shopper might find at a high-​​end super­market like Whole Foods. Cus­tomers would be able to pay for their pro­duce with cash or credit cards. Food stamps would also be accepted, the value of which would be dou­bled under a city of Boston ini­tia­tive called Bounty Bucks.

“We want to help build health into the DNA of these com­mu­ni­ties,” Trautwein said. “We’re chal­lenging the assump­tion that people in these neigh­bor­hoods just aren’t inter­ested in buying fruits and veg­eta­bles. We think if we can make them acces­sible and afford­able we can help change the way a lot of people think about food.”

Fresh Truck’s busi­ness model has been suc­cessful in cities like Chicago and Wash­ington, D.C.; as soon as Clarke and Trautwein raise enough money, they plan to work quickly to bring the busi­ness to at least three of Boston’s neigh­bor­hoods each day.

“We’re going to be learning more and changing things every day so we can make as big an impact as pos­sible on our com­mu­nity,” Clarke said.