Using a Mobile Market to Bring Healthy Food & Prenatal Services to Families in Champaign IL

March 3, 2021
Toddler with Tomato

To build a brighter future for babies – in part by combating high rates of obesity, food insecurity, and childhood poverty – the City of Champaign and Champaign Township partnered with Champaign-Urbana City Farms (CU City Farms) to create a Mobile Food Market. 

Since its launch in September 2020, the Mobile Food Market distributed more than 5,000 pounds of organic, locally grown produce, organic baby food, diapers and formula free of charge to more than 1,000 community members. 

The effort responds to the significant economic and health challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Champaign County’s poverty rate is 18.9%, higher than both Chicago’s Cook County and the state poverty rate. Champaign has significant geographical areas identified as food deserts, and the county has a food insecurity rate well above the national average. 

The Mobile Market visits low-income communities in Champaign twice a week to deliver products, and takes input and feedback from beneficiaries, enabling the Market to respond to customer needs and establish deeper relationships within their communities.

How was the Mobile Market received?

"Since the CU City Farms initiative took shape, I have been pleased with the positive response received from both the public and private sectors,” said Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen. “Through this program, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, the CU Mass Transit District, the Champaign and Urbana Park Districts, Carle, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, and our local urban farms—just to name a few—have come on board in meaningful and reciprocal collaboration. This is a promising initiative for our community."

In an innovative twist, the Mobile Market partnered with Carle Health to provide medical care and wrap around services. The Carle Mobile Health Clinic provides prenatal/postnatal services, school physicals, and flu shots. Plans are underway to deploy the COVID vaccination as it becomes more widely available.

Carle's Healthy Beginnings Program provides in-home support to expectant and current mothers and babies from low-income families, and this partnership allows Carle's program to also deliver food and supplies from the Mobile Market. 

The project partners involved are committed to creating systemic change by promoting urban farming more broadly in the community. The Mobile Market has helped advance this mission. For example, management opportunities have been developed for food insecure residents as part of a partnership between CU City Farms and the City of Champaign Township. 

Together, they are working with Central Illinois Produce's Freight Farm (a vertical hydroponic farm inside a freight container) to employ and educate individuals from underserved communities about hydroponic farming.  All produce grown at the Freight Farm will be donated to the Mobile Market. Koss Farms, an aquaponic farm just outside of Champaign, is planning to train and hire individuals from underserved communities through CU City Farms and will donate produce and organically raised tilapia to the Mobile Market. 

Looking ahead, the project plans to have the mobile market bus retrofitted so that individuals can climb on board to choose their products, once it is safe to do so. The retrofit includes a walk-in cooler, refrigeration units, and ample shelving. 

 

 

This project was funded collaboratively by the Mayors Innovation Project and Bright Cities to support projects that address needs heightened by COVID–19 and that create a brighter future for pregnant women and children under two years.

Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Rebecca McBride, CEO of Four Osprey in Champaign, Illinois at rebeccamcbride77@me.com.

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.