Halifax’s Mobile Food Market strives to make groceries more affordable and accessible

Halifax’s Mobile Food Market is launching its first outdoor market of the year on Saturday, with hopes of bringing more accessible and affordable groceries and produce to communities in the Halifax region.

The pop-up market will be at the Titus Smith Memorial Park in Fairview in the morning, and then in the afternoon will head to the North Memorial Public Library in Halifax’s north end. The outdoor markets will be at these locations every second Saturday throughout the summer.

Along with the mobile market, the organization also provides produce in bulk to shelters, school food programs, senior centers, daycare and other groups throughout the region.

A woman with curly brown hair and glasses is posing and smiling for a photo.  She is wearing a bright read apron with a blue blouse underneath.  She poses by a sign that reads, "Mobile Food Market.  Fresh affordable produce."
Mandy Chapman is the executive director of the Mobile Food Market. (Kelly Clark)

Executive director Mandy Chapman said the organization seeks to target communities with lower social determinants of health. For example, those with higher rates of poverty and unemployment.

“Access to healthy food improves nutrition and overall well-being,” said Chapman. “It promotes social equity and justice.”

Chapman said thanks to a partnership with the Atlantic Superstore, the market can offer fresh produce around 20 to 22 per cent cheaper than the average grocery store.

A man with a brown sweater wearing a silver bracelet is being handed a head of broccoli through a window.
Community partnerships are what make the market capable of offering fresh produce at more affordable rates. (Emily Stevens)

Crystal John, one of the group’s volunteers, grew up in the north end and refers to it as a “food desert.” She said many people in the community have to take two buses just to get to the nearest grocery store. While this might not be an issue for some, it’s not ideal for seniors or people with mobility issues and makes obtaining healthy food a challenge.

On top of being a volunteer in the market, John is also a loyal customer.

The market “means that I can have fruit and vegetables every single day without having to cut something else out,” said John. “It makes a big difference in my health, my wellness and options.”

Support local

For the past few years, Chapman estimates around 30 per cent of the market’s supplies have grown in Nova Scotia.

She said that while it would be difficult to get local produce during the winter months, she hopes to increase that to 80 per cent between June and October this year.

“It engages and empowers communities when they have access to their own food that they’re growing or that they can buy locally,” said Chapman.

“It makes us really a more sustainable Nova Scotia to support our farmers, to teach people where our food comes from, to eat healthy and it contributes to vibrant communities.”

‘No longer just low income’

With the significant rise in grocery prices lately, Chapman and John have both seen an increase in demand in the market.

“It’s no longer just low income. It’s people who have middle incomes because the prices of food are so high,” said Chapman.

Three people are looking through a line of blue bins that contain fresh produce.  There are some leafy greens poking out of some of the bins.
Chapman said anyone is welcome at the market. (Emily Stevens)

Because there is a limited amount of products, the market sells out nearly every time. Chapman said people are even starting to line up before it opens with a “sense of panic” that affordable food might run out.

“People are really trying to survive and feed their families, and make their food dollars stretch. We’re hoping to do that. We don’t want people to feel that panic,” she said. “We want them to come to our market and it’s a beautiful experience for them.”

More than a market

Aside from just shopping, the mobile market strives to create a social experience. John said they always have arts and crafts for the kids while they wait as their parents shop.

To kick off the outdoor market this Saturday, there will be face painting, music, seedling sales and food education.

Volunteers, staff and customers also try to support one another any way they can.

“With the mobile market, I feel like we’ve created this family community where we look out for one another and take care of one another,” she said.

“Somebody says, ‘I need this this week,’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh, I can just pick that up for you,’ if they can’t make the market. So it’s really created this wonderful way of communicating. “

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