It Just Might Work: Produce at bus depot

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Danielby Daniel Wirtheim

Maybe the most obvious solution to the Triad’s food-insecurity problem is to bring a grocery into a food desert, or a low-income neighborhood with limited access to a grocery store. But this solution is often easier said than done and might be better addressed at the center of what reliable transportation our cities have.

Anyone who can walk to a bus stop could make it to the city’s bus depot, and every city in the Triad has one. But none of them sell produce.

Bus depots might be the best way to get families experiencing food insecurity to a reliable source of real food.

Two pop-up produce markets debuted at bus depots in Atlanta and Dayton, Ohio in 2015. The Atlanta market operates once a week and the Dayton market three days a week and both accept SNAP and EBT payments — a pretty crucial element when selling to families in low-income food deserts.

According to a report by Dayton public radio station WYSO, organizers of the Dayton pop-up market were initially worried that only families with a disposition to buy vegetables would use the markets and their appeal would be limited. So the market commissioned cooking and nutritional classes right in the bus depot.

We have all the necessary tools to do something similar here in the Triad. It might take a coalition of local agencies to get a market going. A group like the Mobile Oasis Farmers Market, which offers produce in food deserts in Greensboro and High Point, might team up with the Guilford County Public Health Department to provide some cooking demonstrations along with the groceries. The Mobile Oasis Farmers Market already accepts SNAP and EBT and the bus depot may be where they’ll reach the most people living in food deserts with the time to talk about eating habits.

Because between transfer rides, which connect at the depot, there’s inevitably a period of time that a person spends idling and waiting for their next bus. And with a little reassurance and the prospect of a shopping trip cut short, the bus depot might be their new shopping center.

  • Winston Watchman

    Good article. This is a good idea. I like the idea of pop-up produce markets at bus depots. I have a different, complimentary idea. I don’t like the way food pantries work. They’re dominated by churches. Why do the food insecure poor have to go to churches to get the food they need?

    Churches have baggage. Go to church if you want to get right with god. But if you’re food insecure, the government should bring the food to you. We should have a more efficient way for someone in need to access food. Instead of a patchwork system of churches that are currently relied on, we could do better.

    I’d like to us the postal service deliver food to people who really need it. This would professionalize emergency supplemental food delivery to the poor. It would bring food to the people who need it. They wouldn’t have to devote their time to going to individual churches to get food, the food would come to them.

    The postal service can’t afford to do this. The USPS is billions of dollars in debt. They can’t make money delivering mail and packages as the volume of mail continues to decline. But we need a good, reliable mail service. We should expand the scope of the USPS (and the federal government should assume it’s debts), instead of cutting or privatizing it.

    Sure, the USPS loses money, but so does practically everything else that the government does. That’s a luxury that the government has. They can lose money and it’s acceptable as long as public service is provided.

    The USPS has been a source of good, solid jobs that don’t require a college degree for many decades. We need more jobs like this. Jobs where workers can start at an entry level and work their way up into a solid, middle class career. Continued layoffs at the USPS are unacceptable.

    Having the USPS deliver food staples and potentially even fresh fruits and vegetables would professionalize emergency food delivery. Let the pastors preach. Let the USPS deliver food to the poor!

    All we have to do is start trying. There are tangible ways to help people in need in substantive ways.

    Once the USPS successfully implements an emergency food assistance program for the poor. The USPS can expand into other services. For example, several countries have post office banks. This would be a simple solution to help poor, unbanked people (that are of little value to traditional banks) to have access to a bank account.

    • Daniel Wirtheim

      I really like that idea. There’s plenty of potential in our existing (and sometimes dying) infrastructure that can be refashioned to combat our current problems.

    • K.Wing

      Umm…churches have food pantries because the Bible calls on Believers to help those in need. So rest assured that in times of trouble ANYONE can turn to the House of the Lord. And you’re giving the government way too much credit with this idea…..I belive it would put extra strain on a social welfare system that is already run inefficiently.

  • Billy Jones

    This helps some people but not the home bound mother of three who is facing the Greensboro Transit Authority rule limiting her to carrying 3 bags onto the bus who is already lugging diaper bags and bottles everywhere she goes. And now she is still forced to ride the bus to get groceries? Get real.

    The only real solution to food deserts is to put food in food deserts. Period, end of sentence.

  • Lorraine

    In California, Second Harvest is using refrigerated food trucks. Would that be a possibility here?https://www.shfb.org/producemobile