Food / Health

Fresh food boards the bus

Natalie Conn

Tanya Fields, center in green dress, introduced residents to her mobile market at a “Meet the Bus” event.

 

Long-time activist seeks a new way to deliver healthy meals

Imagine a school bus that plays Afro Latino rhythms, is filled with fresh food for sale and offers cooking demonstrations and Hula-hoop workshops.

“Now how the hell do you not support that?” says food activist Tanya Fields. “And it’s right on your street.”

When the bus rolls to a stop in Hunts Point, Mott Haven and Highbridge, Fields says, “We’re going to give Mister Softee a run for its money.”

The first mobile market in New York City is coming to the South Bronx because that’s where Fields lives and where, she says, it’s hard to find quality food.

“When you have the choice of a mealy apple or black spotted banana or potato chips, of course you’re going to choose the chips,” she says.

Fields and her collaborators, Jalal Sabur and Ben Schwartz  from Wassaic Community Farms about an hour north of the city, say they hope the bus will be ready for business by mid-July, selling fresh and affordable food from the farm and possibly other local growers. They also hope to sell some prepared foods like sandwiches and smoothies.

On a recent Thursday, the bus was parked on Lafayette Avenue next to the BankNote Building. Field’s daughter Lola, 3, and her older siblings took turns climbing into the driver’s seat and running around on the sidewalk as their mother addressed two dozen people and another half dozen gathered in an online chat room

Meet the Bus,” as Fields called the event was one of many she has organized to get feedback from the community and to spread the word about an Internet campaign to raise funds to outfit the bus with refrigerators and solar panels and to modify it to run on cooking oil.

Maria Nela Sarotis, one of the people at the event, suggested that the mobile market should periodically celebrate a seasonal food: pumpkins during November, for example.

“I’m Spanish,” she said, “and when I first saw a collard green, I was like ‘What is this?’” Sarotis said she would love a community project that found a fun way to pass around recipes and introduce people to unfamiliar foods. The group discussed painting a wall of the bus with chalkboard paint so that people could write recipes.

“This is why I have these events!”  Fields said. “These are such good ideas! I don’t want to be doing this all by myself!”

Fund-raising effort

To outfit her mobile market, Tanya Fields, executive director of the food justice organization BLK Projek, is raising funds on-line at indiegogo.com/projects/the-veggie-mobile-market.

Danny Peralta, the director of arts and education at The Point, said the mobile market would be a boon for the community. “We have few healthy options around here and you don’t see as many entrepreneurs who actually live in the area,” he said. “The more things people see around here that are positive and thinking outside the box, the better.”

Destiny Gonzalez and Jon Alamo, 18-year olds, and their friend Emely Herrara, 12, said they’d visit the bus if it played “good music” and was decorated with “good graffiti, not regular lame street graffiti.”

“I’d go if they had bacon-covered potatoes,” Alamo said.

“No, it’s going to be healthy food,” responded Herrara. Healthy food could taste good, Gonzalez agreed.

Mobile markets are a fast-spreading idea, springing up in Chicago, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Madison, and Sante Fe. In early May, Fields told Jolivette Williams, the host of an online radio show, how she became attracted to the concept.

“I tried to start a farmers’ market about two years ago,” she said. “One could say that it was a failure, but I didn’t look at it that way. I looked at it as a learning lesson.”

So she started “looking for other models that had been successful in communities that mirrored mine and I started seeing that around the country people were converting old box trucks, school buses, SUVs into these kind of tricked-out vehicles that could literally bring food to people’s doorsteps.”

Fields knows there will be more hurdles, but she keeps telling herself to just do it.

“My father used to say, ‘Don’t talk about it; be about it.’ I would say, ‘Dad, I’m going to….’ and he’d stop me and say, ‘Do it, then come back and show me.’ And so at the end of the day, there is a lot to worry about but you just got to do it.”

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