Providing an Oasis in a Food Desert

Activist Tanya Fields' innovative mobile market will bring healthy foods to the South Bronx.

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Then Fields discovered that a single round trip from the farms outside the city to the South Bronx in one of the old school buses cost about $320 in gas alone. In addition, the bus wasn't outfitted with the shelves, refrigeration or other equipment needed to safely store and sell food.

Fields and her team went back to a series of foundations and put out calls for individual donations online. They managed to raise $65,000 to convert one of the bus's diesel engines to one that can run partially on discarded (and free) cooking oil from restaurants, cutting the cost of a weekly round trip to the farms down to $150. Volunteers gave the bus a new paint job. Donations also helped the team purchase and install some shelving and refrigeration. The upgrades are enough to get started.

But the bus still needs new seats, more refrigeration, new electrical wiring, a generator and solar panels to help reduce its environmental footprint and operating costs. Fields is working to raise another $30,000 to $50,000.

In the interim, the BLK Projek's mobile market is expected to make its first South Bronx stop and sale in September.

"I am not a food purveyor or food-business person," Fields said. "Our goals, our metric, is how many families do we feed and turn into regular shoppers -- meaning they make a purchase at least twice a month. That's how we'll gauge our impact."

Janell Ross is a reporter in New York who covers political and economic issues. She is working on a book about race, economic inequality and the recession, due to be published by Beacon Press next year. Follow her on Twitter.

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