The USDA defines a "food desert" as any location without a grocery store within a one-mile radius. When Josh Trautwein goes to work at the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center, he sees the effects of Boston's food deserts firsthand.
"People are resigned to shopping at corner stores, which are usually more expensive and have a narrower selection," Trautwein says. "We're talking about a basic necessity for families that's been stripped from a lot of communities, in our city and throughout the country."
Trautwein and his business partner, Daniel Clarke, are seeking to serve these populations — and put a new spin on the food-truck trend — with the Fresh Truck, a mobile produce market in a revamped school bus. The two recent Northeastern grads hope to use it to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods where they're most needed, like Roxbury, Charlestown, and Mattapan.
Trautwein, who has a background in nonprofit work and youth development, wanted to "combine the necessity of eating well with the popularity of food trucks in Boston." So he reached out to his friend Clarke, who honed his business chops at Procter & Gamble and Brooke Private Equity Associates.
"When I started, I had no idea how big an issue food accessibility and affordability was in Boston," Clarke says. After winning $5000 from local nonprofit Boston Rising's business-plan competition this fall, he and Trautwein decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign, which ends on February 11. At press time, they were two-thirds of the way toward their goal of raising $30,000 to purchase the bus, formerly used in a climate-science education tour and already fitted with hardwood floors, solar panels, and a vegetable-oil-powered engine.
Traditional farmers' markets, the pair argue, are often time- and labor-intensive, and have the downside of being stationary. The Fresh Truck will be able to set up shop wherever there's a big-enough parking space. After the launch, tentatively planned for this spring, customers will shop inside the bus and have access to information on the origins of the food for sale, most of which will be sourced from Massachusetts farms through a local wholesaler. Other planned features, like a sound system and a vibrant design for the bus's exterior, will make the prospect of "shopping for produce something that's actually exciting for kids and parents," says Clarke.