For residents of some communities on Long Island, getting to grocery stores and markets that sell fresh produce is half the battle of staying healthy, says Nancy Copperman, a Northwell Health vice president.
"Where can you really shop if you don't have a supermarket — and transportation?" Copperman says of Nassau and Suffolk County residents who may have to travel long distances to buy healthy fruits and vegetables.
So, for the second year Fresh Truck Mobile Farmers Market run by Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, or FREE, an Old Bethpage-based nonprofit that helps people with disabilities, is rolling out a market on wheels to deliver locally grown fresh produce to underserved residents in 12 Nassau and Suffolk locations. And this time around, the mobile market, a partnership between Northwell Health and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, is expanding to 12 sites, double that of last year.
The truck runs through Sept. 29 to support areas with "social and economic disparities and high rates of chronic diseases," says Copperman, health VP. "No one is going to care about monitoring their diabetes if they can't get food."
Customers can use electronic benefit transfers, supplemental nutrition assistance program, vouchers and Fresh Connect coupons in addition to credit cards and cash, says Kimberly Schultz, community projects director at FREE. It’s also the only mobile market on Long Island enrolled in the New York State Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides checks to purchase locally grown produce, she notes.
“Last year the truck served 350 people; we anticipate to double this season,” Schultz says of prospective customers. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, as defined by the Department of Agriculture.
According to Feeding America, a nationwide, hunger-relief organization, 73,050 residents in Nassau County and 82,100 in Suffolk were considered food insecure in 2017. "We're providing food as a mainstay for tackling health," Copperman says.
"It’s about bringing fresh food and education about how to create healthy meals for people who don’t necessarily have access to farmers markets,” says Stephanie Lewis, assistant vice president of vocational services at FREE.
The brightly colored retrofitted truck offers communities seasonal fruits and vegetables from ''everbearing'’ strawberries to '‘big boy'’ tomatoes. In addition to its wide selection of produce, "having different payment methods is what makes the program unique,” says Schultz.
She is aiming to reach more people thanks to a $31,000 grant from Smile Farms in Oakdale for a greenhouse, a separate grant from Home Depot for a hoop house and three aeroponic towers donated by the Viscardi Center in Albertson.
Lewis says the donations will provide gardening vocational experiences to people with disabilities 365 days a year.
Garden associate Berdina Wright, 39, of Brentwood, has been working on the farm since 2002 as part of a prevocational workshop at FREE for people with disabilities. She cuts, washes, prices and sells food at the farm, which provides most of the produce for the mobile market.
Wright looks forward to "getting her hands dirty" in the field and "meeting people" on the truck.
"We want people to recognize the contribution people with disabilities make in this community," says Jennifer Carpenter Low, vice president of Smile Farms.
Two nutritional educators will also be on board, one of whom is bilingual, to provide customers with handout information and healthy recipes.
Seema Uppal, a nutrition educator from Dix Hills, says some popular recipes from last year were spaghetti squash, parfaits and English muffin pizzas with vegetables.
Uppal recalls encouraging customers aboard the truck to try squash for the first time.
“They were intimidated by it, so we cut it and did a demonstration,” Uppal says. “We always tell people you should eat healthy, but showing them really makes a difference.”
2019 FREEdom Farm Mobile Market stops
The mobile market makes 12 stops weekly throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. At some markets, a table is set up with produce to sell; those are noted below. Otherwise, the entire truck brings produce to sell.
1725 Brentwood Rd., Brentwood
Mondays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 23 (table only)
Family Residences & Essential Enterprises — Eddie C. Moore program
120 Plant Ave., Hauppauge
Mondays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 23
Northwell Health, Dolan Family Health Center
284 Pulaski Rd., Greenlawn
Tuesdays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 24
Northwell Health, Huntington Hospital
270 Park Ave., Huntington
Tuesdays 12:45-2 p.m., through Sept. 24
405 Locust Ave., Oakdale
Wednesdays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 25
Adelante of Suffolk County
10 Third Ave., Brentwood
Wednesdays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 25 (table only)
Adelante of Suffolk County
83 Carleton Ave., Central Islip
Wednesdays 12:30-1:30 p.m., through Sept. 25
Hudson River Health Care at Brentwood
1869 Brentwood Rd., Brentwood
Fridays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 27
Northwell Health, Southside Hospital
301 E Main St., Bay Shore
Fridays 12:30-1:30 p.m., through Sept. 27
Family Residences & Essential Enterprises
191 Bethpage-Sweet Hollow Rd., Old Bethpage,
Tuesdays 12:45-1:45 p.m., through Sept. 24 (table only)
Northwell Health, Orzac Rehabilitation Center
900 Franklin Ave., Valley Stream
Thursdays 10 a.m.-noon, through Sept. 26
Northwell Health, Family Medical Center at Glen Cove
101 Saint Andrews Lane, Glen Cove
Thursdays 1-2 p.m., through Sept. 26