Our work at Open Rivers crosses many sectors, geographies and industries. This provides a unique opportunity to meet inspiring people and to witness the impactful work they are undertaking. We want to share their stories and efforts in the hope that they inspire others and forge new connections to broaden their work.
Food access is a significant challenge for over 23.5 million people in the U.S. Limited access to nutritious, affordable food continues to plague many communities across the U.S.
Longtime St. Paul resident Leah Porter saw this issue firsthand in the Twin Cities - it was clear that numerous residents lived in areas with little or no access to healthy food. She personally understood the toll that this takes from her own childhood where she experienced food access issues. Food access is a key driver of health which in turn drives a host of other outcomes from the ability to fully contribute to society to having healthy working communities.
She decided to do something about this and founded the Twin Cities Mobile Market in 2013. This innovative and straightforward concept brings fresh, affordable food to the residents who need it most. They began by purchasing one city bus and converting it into a grocery store on wheels. Over time, they grew to two buses, reaching more than 4,000 residents across the metro.
In addition to fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products and dry goods, the Mobile Market provides at- or below-market prices to its customers, it also hosts events that include cooking classes and nutrition education to help them to make the best choices for their families.
Dr. Melissa Horning, a researcher and assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota, is working on a research study to measure the impact of this innovative non-profit on the local community. These studies identified several positive benefits of this program thus far:
· 89% of customers buy more fruits and vegetables
· 85% of customers prepare more meals at home
· 84% of customers prepare healthier meals and snacks
· 82% feel more connected to their neighborhood
Dr. Horning explains, “Our research focus groups with current shoppers have really emphasized that the mobile market is helping shoppers achieve their health goals and increases access to fresh, healthy foods,” she said. Echoing the sentiments of many in the community, one shopper told her during the focus groups, “I would really be lost if the bus didn’t come.”
The Mobile Market is playing its part to fill in gaps not covered through grocery stores and food pantries, but it cannot do it alone. To continue their operations, they rely partly on a variety of support including sponsorships from major food companies who provide low/no cost products, as well as donations and direct purchases from various retailers and producers. Currently, the most needed products are milk, bread, and eggs.
This service plays a critical role for many residents. We hope to see their good work continue as long people continue to face food access issues. If you are interested and able to help provide contacts to organizations who can help or with donations of resources and/or food, we encourage you to reach out to us or to Leah directly at email@example.com
Over the course of her 16-year career, Leah Porter has developed innovative and award-winning programs for various organizations and has raised more than $18 million in support. In 2013, she brought her personal passion to life by founding the Twin Cities Mobile Market. She now leads the program under the auspices of the Wilder Foundation.
Leah and the Twin Cities Mobile Market have received significant media coverage and awards, including the Ramsey County Public Health Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Hamline School of Business. In 2016, Leah was named by JCI Minnesota as one of the 10 Outstanding Young Minnesotans.