Alumni turn bus into farmers market on wheels

The St. Louis MetroMarket is a non-profit mobile farmers market that aims to restore access to healthy foods in St. Louis area food deserts. The health impacts of living in such an area manifest in all forms of malnutrition, from starvation to morbid obesity.

The St. Louis MetroMarket was developed by Jeremy Goss, a fourth-year medical student at SLU, and his co-founders, Colin Dowling, PMBA’12 and Tej Azad,AB’12, both alumni of WashU.

Corey Mauer, St. Louis University. Jeremy Goss and Colin Dowling sit behind the wheel of the donated Metro bus which will become St. Louis MetroMarket.

Jeremy Goss and Colin Dowling sit behind the wheel of the donated Metro bus which will become St. Louis MetroMarket. Image: Corey Mauer, St. Louis University.

The St. Louis MetroMarket and Saint Louis University are celebrating the delivery of a retired Metro transit bus which will soon be converted into St. Louis MetroMarket’s first mobile farmers market. The bus was delivered Tuesday, June 2, to its new home at Salus Center on the Saint Louis University Med Center campus.

The first stop for St. Louis MetroMarket will be the JeffVanderLou (JVL) neighborhood. The JVL neighborhood is home to 5,557 residents with a median household income of $18,617, but the community only has access to three small corner stores following the May 2014 closing of the one full-service supermarket in the area.

Mildred Mattfeldt-Beman, Ph.D., chair of Saint Louis University’s department of nutrition and dietetics, will attend an upcoming JVL neighborhood block party to introduce the concept to the residents ahead of its debut.

Now that St. Louis MetroMarket has received the bus, work can begin to convert it into a mobile farmers market. The vehicle’s seat and railings will be replaced with shelving and refrigeration units ahead of its debut later this summer. In retrofitting the bus, Goss said he hopes to preserve the original footprint of the bus, leaving the aisle wide enough for persons with disabilities to shop the bus.

Artists with the Screwed Arts Collective will design originial art work for the bus, which will then be transferred onto vinyl bus wrapping.

A Learning Experience

St. Louis MetroMarket founders Goss and Dowling on Tuesday also announced plans to work with SLU’s College of Public Health and Social Justice to study the impact mobile market has on its customers and the neighborhoods it will serve.

“We will evaluate different pieces of the market, including its impact on food accessibility,” said Ellen Barnidge, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science and health education.

Barnidge and colleague Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral science and health education, will also evaluate how well the St. Louis MetroMarket achieves sustainability through its corporate membership model. A sliding scale membership model will be used to subsidize operations in low-income neighborhoods as the St. Louis MetroMarket will concurrently sell its healthy foods at local corporate campuses for competitive market prices.

Some evaluations will be incorporated into some classes, providing students in the College of Public Health and Social Justice a real-world application of their coursework.

“We want to be data driven,” said Dowling. “The collection of unbiased data is critical for accountability.” Dowling added that by evaluating all aspects of St. Louis MetroMarket’s operation from the beginning, they can create best practices and react in real time to customers’ needs.

Through collaboration SLU and St. Louis MetroMarket will also create a strong Farm-to-Fork program that incorporates local, sustainably grown food sources, jobs training and entrepreneurship programs and builds a broad base of community support while capitalizing on existing resources within the City of St. Louis in order to combat food insecurity.

Mattfeldt-Beman noted that nutrition and dietetics students would be tracking sales in order to communicate the needs of customers to the network of community and urban farmers who will supply the fruits and vegetables for St. Louis MetroMarket.

Mardell Wilson, Ed.D, dean of Doisy College of Health Sciences, called the collaboration a “really good fit” with the overall mission of the university.

“This project is mission-driven,” she said. “There is a strong team in place and they are incorporating teaching, research and service to make this project a success.”

The St. Louis MetroMarket is working toward a late summer 2015 launch.

– From SLU news release

Image: vegetables by Shereen Rayle, public domain

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