A fresh start

Unlike many kids, Carolynn Bennett was never told to eat her veggies.

Her parents, struggling at the time with poverty and addiction, didn’t pay a lot of attention to Bennett’s diet. Fresh food was almost non-existent. When she had two daughters of her own, she was determined to make a change. Now she’s giving her kids the nutritious upbringing she never had.

“Mashed potatoes, fresh veggies and fruit, yogurt. Put out some broccoli, they’ll just eat broccoli,” Bennett says, smiling.

But it hasn’t been easy. As a single parent with no vehicle, she has to walk — usually with her kids in tow — to buy all her food. One winter, the grocery store near her old apartment closed down. To get through the next few weeks, she bundled up her infant daughter and took a 15-minute bus ride to the nearest grocery store to buy a case of instant noodles.


Carolynn Bennett wants her daughters to grow up healthy. Thanks to donors, she can shop for fresh produce at the local rec centre, a five-minute walk from her home.


“Ichiban isn’t heavy,” she says. “So I could actually carry them home with a stroller.”

One in eight Canadian households struggle to put enough healthy food on the table. Lack of proximity to grocery stores, coupled with low income, is a major barrier — and a major reason why UAlberta developed a mobile food market called Fresh Routes. The program targets so-called “food deserts” — high-density neighbourhoods with no grocery stores nearby and residents with low incomes and no vehicles. Almost 40,000 Edmontonians, four per cent of the city, live in a food desert.

“Customers need to be treated with dignity, to feel like they belong,” says Maria Mayan, ’90 BSc(HEc), ’96 PhD, a UAlberta researcher who studies barriers to community wellness.

Bennett discovered Fresh Routes at its regular Wednesday night stop at the Clareview Community Recreation Centre in northeast Edmonton, a five-minute walk from her new townhome. Since she often takes her kids to swim at the centre, it’s easy for Bennett to pick up some oranges, apples, grapes, cauliflower, avocados and lettuce — $35 for a week of healthy snacks. 

Fresh Routes staff buy produce at wholesale prices and sell it for about 60 per cent less than grocery stores. 

“Customers need to be treated with dignity, to feel like they belong,” says Maria Mayan, ’90 BSc(HEc), ’96 PhD, a UAlberta researcher who studies barriers to community wellness. Her work was inspired by Fresh Routes Calgary, which she partnered with to bring the program to Edmonton. “When you can buy your own food with your own money, you remove the shame that’s often put upon you when you’re living with a low income,” Mayan says.

An online giving campaign made it easy for donors to provide the support needed to get the program up and running. Thanks to these donors and strong volunteer and customer support, Fresh Routes has expanded to other areas of Edmonton, including a market on UAlberta’s North Campus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fresh Routes switched gears to deliver food directly and free of charge to families in need.

“This grocery store means my girls can grow up as healthy as possible,” Bennett says. “It makes me feel proud that I haven’t failed them and that I can do this on my own.”

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