Farmers Market-On-Wheels Brings The Farm Stand To Garfield Park Seniors

Nona Ethington (from left), Sam Taylor and Angela Taylor on Tuesday with their farmers market-on-wheels at the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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For years, green-thumbed West Siders have been trying to turn food deserts into oases for fresh produce by growing their own fare in community gardens that can be sold at neighborhood farmers markets.

Now, they’re going the extra mile to make sure it reaches residents who struggle to make a trip to the market by bringing the produce to them — a farmers market-on-wheels.

The focus is on reaching seniors in the East and West Garfield Park neighborhoods, many of whom receive benefits, such as Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons, but live in areas where markets can be scarce.

Angela Taylor, who is spearheading the mobile market project from the Garfield Park Community Council, said the coupons are only useful if they can be used, noting “if they’re not able to get to a farmers market, then do they actually get the benefits?”

The Garfield Park Community Council’s farmers market-on-wheels waits Tuesday at the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden in Garfield Park. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Friday, the market-on-wheels with embark on its first delivery run, ferrying produce from a cool storage facility to Anathoth Gardens, an independent living facility for seniors.

The “wheels” are a low-speed electric vehicle — essentially a street-legal golf cart — that can carry hundreds of pounds, goes around 20 mph and can travel about 20 miles at full charge, which Taylor said she can recharge via a regular wall outlet. It was provided by the Elmhurst-based Eco-Friendly Mobile Farm Stand Project, which supplies such vehicles to urban farms.

The total cost of the vehicle was $16,500, according to Bob Kopach, who founded the organization. Kopach said this is the first vehicle it has supplied to an organization in Chicago, and the funds were given by Mike and Linda Mussallem, who also funded the organization’s first stand last year in their hometown of Gary, Indiana.

Taylor said she plans to use the cart to drop by Anathoth Gardens with produce twice a month and aims to reach four other senior homes before winter.

This week, residents can expect tomatoes, peppers, herbs, kale and collards, all grown in the council’s network of community gardens that also supply their bimonthly farmers market.

Produce grows Tuesday inside planter boxes at the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden on the West Side, one of the community gardens contributing to the Garfield Park Community Council’s farmers market-on-wheels. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For the 42 residents of Anathoth Gardens, resident services coordinator Curtis Harris expects the mobile stand to be a hit. When Taylor has brought produce to the building before, it’s been well received, with more than half of the residents showing up to buy the locally grown fruits and vegetables, he said.

Harris said the residents have struggled to get fresh produce, particularly after the Aldi in West Garfield Park closed.

“They shut it down a year ago, so [the seniors] have to travel all the way to Oak Park,” where residents taking the bus can get to a Jewel-Osco, Harris said.

Taylor, who helped the council establish its network of gardens and farmers market a decade ago, hopes the new venture will help revolutionize food access in the community. She recalled police handing out milk, eggs and produce in the neighborhood on Saturdays when she was a girl.

“The moms would be waiting because a lot of time they couldn’t get to grocery stores,” the 62-year-old said.

She hopes to be able to re-create that experience again.

“I have a vision of a summer day, of ... selling out of everything and then being able to drive back, refill the cart and drive somewhere else.”

Sam Taylor (from left), Nona Ethington and Angela Taylor stand with their farmers market-on-wheels Tuesday, a custom golf cart for distributing produce, at the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden on the West Side. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.