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Farm Truck Foods to get rolling this spring

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Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Food deserts, which are defined by the USDA as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food,” are a serious problem in Pittsburgh. A 2013 report by Just Harvest identified that Pittsburgh has the highest percentage of people residing in food deserts compared to other cities of its size.

With its recent surge of funds, Farm Truck Foods hopes to drive its mobile grocery store right into these communities, increasing residents’ access to fresh produce, dairy, meat, and eggs — year-round and at affordable prices. A partnership between Farm Truck Foods and Just Harvest will enable shoppers to use SNAP benefits to purchase food from the truck.

Originally set to begin operations in May 2014, Farm Truck Foods’ co-founders Meredith Neel, Michelle LaGree and Landon DePaulo delayed the launch due to a lack of funding. “[This grant] means that we’re finally going to be able to serve the residents that we passionately want to serve, those in low-access communities,” says Ms. Neel. Though no definitive locations or schedule is set, Farm Truck Foods still plans to first target neighborhoods most in need, such as Homewood, Hazelwood, Millvale, and others. The truck also may stop at senior facilities and other locations where people lack mobility.

The grant money will be used to purchase the truck and renovate it to meet Allegheny CountyHealth Department’s standards. The funds also will outfit the company with the appropriate technology needed to connect to communities and service customers.

Art King, owner of Harvest Valley Farms and an early supporter of Farm Truck Foods, is eager to see this hypothetical truck finally make its first stop. Like Ms. Neel, he sees the potential benefits for both residents and farmers. “When I’m at the markets, I’m not farming. I can’t get everywhere, but this truck could,” he says. “Every community would benefit.”

Farm Truck Foods will operate as a for-profit company with a benefit organization, meaning that any profit earned will either be driven back into Farm Truck Foods or into the communities it serves.

For now, however, the team is simply focused becoming operational for the next growing season. “It’s a lot to do by the end of May,” says Ms. Neel. Until then, she asks that people continue to reach out to Farm Truck Foods (http://ftfpgh.com) about need in their communities.

Jessica Server: jessicaRserver@gmail.com.

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