Fresh Routes

By Rita Espeschit

By Rita Espeschit

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It’s Wednesday evening, and the Clareview Rec Centre is busy with patrons heading to arenas, swimming pools, and tennis courts.

Coming from a colourful truck parked outside, a bunch of people haul boxes and boxes of groceries into the building and arrange them on a long lineup of tables stuck together.

Next to them we stand — we, the shoppers-in-waiting, marvelling at all that freshness and counting the minutes until the official opening of the Fresh Routes Mobile Grocery StoreFresh Routes Mobile Grocery Store, an ambitious initiative that vows to bring healthy — and unusually affordable — food to many of Edmonton’s communities.

As the staff and volunteers from Fresh Routes start sticking price tags to the produce, I hear a fellow shopper talk to her friend. “Look at the celery,” she says excitedly. “It’s only $2.50! And the cauliflower… what did we pay for that cauliflower the other day?”

For now, the mobile store has one only weekly event scheduled: every Wednesday at the Clareview centre, from 6:30 to 8 pm. But other days and locations will be added soon, allowing various communities to access the program without having to cross the city to pick up what they need.

Better and cheaper groceries

“We buy produce at a much reduced price,” explains Morgan Allen, Community Resource Coordinator in the Faculty of Extension and lead of a newly-created branch of the Leftovers Foundation that oversees Fresh Routes. That strategy allows them to sell items 40 to 60 per cent cheaper than market value.

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Anita Courtoreille (photo supplied)

This difference in price can be vital for many in our communities. “Food prices have gone so much up, yet people on assistance aren’t getting any extra money,” says Anita Courtoreille, holding a bag of produce she’s just bought from Fresh Routes.

Currently relying on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) to feed her five children, Anita credits programs such as this with allowing her to make it to the end of the month. For her, Fresh Routes stands out for one feature in particular: “Here, there are no questions asked. You don’t need to tell the story of your life to a stranger — you just go shopping and get the food that you need.”

Morgan has a technical name for this: “dignified access to food,” which was an important aspect of the project plan. To make it possible, Fresh Routes welcomes everyone to buy their food, regardless of income. Not only that, but shopping from the mobile store actually helps to keep it afloat, since they operate as a social enterprise.

A growing family

Fresh Routes came to life as a younger sibling to Grocery Run, a project initiated by researchers from the Faculty of Extension in partnership with the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative in 2016.

Grocery Run distributes nearly three tonnes of food per month. Its organizers, however, knew that an expansion was badly needed. They learned about the mobile store that had been pioneered in Calgary by the Leftovers Foundation, set the wheels in motion to replicate the idea in Edmonton. With the Calgary organization on board, Leftovers Edmonton was born.

A long and steep road stood between the envisioning of Fresh Routes and the day they were finally able to acquire the refrigerated truck that was essential for the project to get started. “Someone once compared this project to The Little Engine That Could,” smiles Maria Mayan, interim dean of the Faculty of Extension, “the children’s book about how, through perseverance, you do things you didn’t believe you could do. And I actually think the story does capture what happened here.”

For Maria, the project speaks to Extension’s vision in many different ways. “There is the aspect of social change, the work in partnership with community… we could never have done this without our partners here and in Calgary.”

The Fresh Routes Mobile Grocery Store is supported of the U of A’s Community-University Partnership (CUP), the City of Edmonton, the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative, Jasper Place Wellness, the Edmonton Community Development Company, Communities United, and the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Rita Espeschit
Rita is a marketing and communications specialist in the U of A’s Faculty of Extension.

This story originally appeared on Faculty of Extension news on October 15, 2019.Faculty of Extension news on October 15, 2019.