Aisle One Mobile Market Works to Improve Access to Healthy Foods

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Kimberly Johnson’s idea for a mobile market that she could take throughout Youngstown started about 750 miles south in Birmingham, Ala. 

In 2015, the Southern city converted one of its buses to a grocery store on wheels to address the lack of access to fresh food in the city, one of the  poorest and most food insecure in the country.

“I always thought the idea was so amazing and the more research I did, the more I felt it could really benefit Youngstown,” says Johnson, the owner of Aisle One Mobile Market. “I’ve lived in Coitsville, lived in the Sharon Line [neighborhood] on the East Side and [what they saw] is how it was for me growing up and how it was for my kids growing up. It’s a matter of equity and the inner city of Youngstown having access to food. It’s not always economics. As things get outsourced to the suburbs, the inconvenience is universal.”

There isn’t an Aisle One grocery bus just yet – she hopes to have that ready by winter – but Johnson sets up twice a week, on Mondays at the site of the former McGuffey Mall on Youngstown’s east side and on Wednesdays at Evolve Market on Mahoning Avenue. Both days, she sets up from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weather permitting.

Accessibility is the biggest reason Johnson set up Aisle One every week. To get to a store with produce, East Side residents without their own transportation need to get downtown to catch a bus back to the East Side that goes past the Sav-A-Lot on U.S. Route 422.

“If I get off work at 4:30 and have until 6:30 to get my kids fed and off to practice, that doesn’t work,” Johnson says. “If you want to feed your family without going to the corner store or a Dollar General, if you don’t want processed food you don’t have an option, especially on this side of town.”

The store stocks fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seasonings and canned goods. Each time she sets up, Johnson aims to have all the ingredients needs for at least one meal. She shares the recipes at Aisle One and on the market’s social media pages.

“Beyond just being accessible, there’s an education portion to show people how they can make a 20-minute balanced meal. If there’s a recipe or meal suggestion with the items right on the spot, people can know what they can do with it,” she says. “There’s a piece of re-educating ourselves to a new way of doing things.”

Her stock largely comes from local farms and butchers. She frequents The Amish Market in Boardman and has bought from Catullo Prime Meats, White House Fruit Farm and others. She also buys from Trader Joe’s, which has a “great organic section that isn’t too costly so when I can, I’ll bring some things down from them.”

And if customers have special requests, she does her best to meet them. Recently, a man requested green tomatoes and, the next week, Aisle One had a bushel of them in stock. 

With a growing vegan population among the Black community, Johnson says she’s also working to meet those needs. The effort is helped by the site of her Wednesday location at Evolve Market, which stocks fresh herbs and vegan foods, that sits next door to Cosmic Kitchen, a Black-owned vegan restaurant.

“It’s great to have these businesses coming together to meet community needs,” Johnson says. 

This story is part of our Minority Entrepreneurship Week. Read about our diversity, equity and inclusion platform HERE.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.