I work for the St. Louis MetroMarket which is part of the grocery/retail section of the food system. The MetroMarket bus is a City Transit bus converted into a mobile health food store. The purpose of the bus is to bring healthy, cheap, locally sourced vegetables and fruits to neighborhoods in North St. Louis City and North St. Louis County that are food deserts. The bus stops at 10266 West Florissant Ave in Dellwood from 3:00-6:00 pm on Fridays and at the intersection of Jefferson and Cass in the Jeff VanderLou Neighborhood from 10:00-1:00 pm on Saturday morning. We are a non-profit organization and most of the money we get, we get from grants and other non-profits in St. Louis. Therefore we can subsidize food for our members and sell food at cost, without marking it up. Our main suppliers of food in St. Louis are Good Life Growing and Urban Harvest STL. These organizations grow produce for us and donate it. Lots of the fruits and vegetables that we sell, we get from local farms here in the St. Louis region. We love these relationships. However, the reality is that you can’t grow some of the food that our customers want, like lemons or grapes, year round in St. Louis. The market bus is utilized, even though its only its second year. It was possible that people wouldn’t come. What inspires us to keep working is that it the bus actually is used. There is demand for health food and fruits and vegetables that has built up over time.
What other organizations in STL does your organization work with on food issues?
We work with so many other organizations. There is such a good community of organizations and people that care about food issues in St. Louis. Operation Food Search is the most important organization that we work with. They store our bus and lets us use an office. They also provide healthy cooking demonstrations on site. The Fit and Food Connection handles all of the extra produce that we cannot sell. Fit and Food Connection takes our unbought produce, converts it into healthy meals and then delivers the meals to low income community members. The Sun Cafe, a non-profit social enterprise, in Hyde Park (north St. Louis), that employee people from neighborhood, supplies us with ready to eat items like snacks and desserts.
Any projects in the works?
This year we are expanding, from two spot to three spots. We are adding a spot in the North City. Our primary goal is to expand. We would like to double the number of our stops in order to double our access to food deserts. There are two other project, currently in idea and research. We have a second bus ready if we ever get to a point where we are ready to get a second bus online. We might be ready in 2018 or more realistically 2019.
We are in the research phase of seeing if we can start a Metro Market brand of grocery products. These products would have the Metro Market brand and logo and we would sell them online and at Schnucks and Lucky’s. Having a product to sell in the marketplace is a great way to fund a non-profit mission and provides a more sustainable business model. We are currently looking at healthy snacks that are easy to shelf such as veggie chips or apple chips.
Where do you see the future of STL’s food system?
What we like to think about is, what is the opposite of a food desert? What does St. Louis as a food oasis look like? A food oasis would have a lot more farms and food producers in the St. Louis region. There would be more growing food indoors and growing food in unused areas through rooftop gardening, warehouse and aquaponics. Farms would be are producing all different types of food, not just corn, soy and cattle. This is not an improbable goal. St. Louis is in a great location for agriculture and the city has a lot of vacant land (1 in 5 spaces in St. Louis is vacant) making it ideal for urban agriculture.
We need a more diversified selection of grocery store options. One grocery store for all needs doesn’t work in low income area. We need more stores selling and providing food in the neighborhood in which they exist. We don’t just need supermarkets, we could also use neighborhood scale food co-operative. We also need better food delivery infrastructure. Recently, Amazon bought Whole Foods. That would be amazing in the future if you could get Schnucks or Whole Foods delivered to your door.
What do you do outside of your job that supports the local food system?
My front yard is a garden. I grow my own vegetables at house and I grow food with my neighbors. I support the local food movement in St. Louis by regularly going to the Tower Grove Farmers Market, or City Greens Market. Food tastes better when it is grown locally!