A Tale of Two Food Deserts

Growing healthy communities when fresh food isn't around the corner.

By Katie Walker

Photography by Bob Stefko & Kalen Severe


Baskets of fresh produce on the Fresh Moves busFinding a Solution
Casey and Pinzino initially wanted to open a brick-and-mortar store, but the overhead would be too much, and it would help only the people in walking distance of the one location. Community gardens? A great idea, but as Pinzino points out, "A garden in Chicago only gives fresh food 5 months out of the year." They needed to benefit as many people as possible year-round.

Then things began to come together when Pinzino started thinking mobile. Muhammad, who knew that they had to bring the fresh food to the people whom grocery stores had long ago abandoned, joined forces with the organizers. The group acquired the biggest vehicle that they knew could plow through streets in winter—a Chicago Transit Authority bus—and dubbed their program "Fresh Moves." Providing any organic produce seemed out of reach at first, but a local food supplier worked with them on a pricing structure that allowed them the least amount of risk selling organic alongside conventional.

Across the country, in order for the people in Grant County to address the issue as a community, Edwards knew that first "they had to buy in to the fact that there was an issue." In 2008, Edwards held town hall meetings for ideas on how to combat the problems the county faced. She found that residents were as focused on the need for healthy food as she was, and they wanted to get food to populations most in need of it: children and seniors.

The concept of community gardens is very different in a rural community, Edwards says, because one large garden will reach only the small number of people in the surrounding area. To be effective, the gardens would have to be widespread. TVC would help in the setup, but local groups needed to step up and take responsibility for running the gardens.

"Kids in a Candy Store"
The first day on the Fresh Moves bus looked to be a dreary one. It was raining, and no one knew if people would even show up to this grocery on wheels. But as the day progressed, lines snaked out the door. Muhammad smiles even now thinking about it, calling the day "wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exhilarating." Sixty people went through the truck in the first hour. Pinzino remembers people walking to the checkout with an armful of produce and a handful of cash; when their totals were lower than they expected, which was almost always the case, they ran back to get more food. "They were like kids in a candy store," he says, "except this candy is all natural and good for them."