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Fresh Moves at Boxville Marketplace gives free food as inflation soars

On a warm Thursday afternoon in July, the Boxville marketplace in Bronzeville buzzes with free, fresh, organic, produce during record high inflation. The Fresh Moves van and a fenceless community garden jointly tackle sustenance needs for the community near the Green Line train and 51st Street in Bronzeville.

The Fresh Moves mobile market van started bringing its “produce aisle on wheels” -- as it’s known -- to Boxville in June 2020 to help bring relief during the first summer of the pandemic and has been reliable ever since.

The market van stops for an hour. Fresh Moves visitors are given $10 worth of produce and the choice of a 15-pound prepackaged box or entering the van and shopping for items of their choice. In addition, Fresh Moves matches up to $50 of Chicago’s Link Match.

“Anybody who shows up can get this food,” Fresh Market associate Derrek Patrick said. “Fresh Moves does a great job of getting produce and veggies to the consumer.”

A Fresh Moves customer exits the van after they finish shopping for $10 worth of free produce. Credit: Kala Hunter/Medill.

Fresh Moves is a part of the Urban Growers Collective. The collective distributes produce to communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago, from its 8-acre, organic, farm. It partners with distributors to make up for what it doesn’t grow.

Sandria Washington, the director of engagement & partnerships at Boxville, sends out texts to hyper-local consumers. Washington initiated the text list to build more personal interactions with Fresh Moves consumers to keep people apprised if the van were to have maintenance issues.

“There have been van maintenance issues in the past,” Washington said.

“Right now, my list is at 167 people.”

Eggplants, Zucchini, and Peppers are some of the produce people can select.

Bronzeville community members rely on this food and notice when it’s not around.

“[Fresh Moves] is a great thing because food insecurity is a big deal,” Patrick said. “People depend on the bus to come here. If we don’t show up, we have people calling us wanting to know where we are. There is a huge demand. We’re growing so much that we need another truck. Right now, the staff is overworked and the van is filled to capacity.”

Rising inflation is contributing to the need for the food Fresh Moves delivers. On July 13, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

“Five of the six major grocery store food group indexes rose in June,” according to the latest CPI report. The fruits and vegetables index increased .7% in June after rising .6% in May. The food at home index rose 12.2% over the last 12 months, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 1979.”

A customer selects $10 worth of free food in the “produce aisle” on the Fresh Moves Mobile Market. Credit: Kala Hunter, Medill.

The truck delivers in all seasons at Boxville and its 13 other stops in Chicago. However, consumers are limited to the quicker, prepackaged option, during the winter months.

Bronzeville resident Pamaela Dailey stopped by for the first time on Thursday. Elated at the opportunity to get free fresh produce, she said, “I just happened to be driving and saw this truck by so I stopped. Fruits and vegetables are my thing!”

The community garden adjacent to the Boxville marketplace offers an abundance of chard and collard greens, also available to anyone in the community who needs it.

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