‘No Plans to Stop’ as Mobile Market Marks One Year

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – About four years ago, Rose Carter decided it was finally time to make a move and bring the grocery store to those in a food desert. 

“It was 2019, I believe, that we started doing pop-up markets,” said Jeff Magada, founder and executive director of Flying High Inc. “Rose Carter, the executive director of Action, and I got together. Action wanted to get a grocery store in the city and has continued those efforts to do so, but in the meantime, Rose said to me, ‘Jeff, what are we waiting on?’”

Fast forward to now – the Mahoning Valley Mobile Market is celebrating one year of service, and there are no signs of stopping. 

One year from its launch in May 2022, the revamped 20-passenger van has brought the grocery store to nearly 9,000 people throughout 343 sites.

“It really is a testimony to the need for food access in the Mahoning Valley and grassroots organizations stepping up to meet that need,” Magada said.

An anniversary event will be held at Wean Park, 201 S. Phelps St., on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. The event will feature market vouchers, food, games, music and several prizes. The mobile market will also be available until 3 p.m.

Carter said the celebration is a way to say thank you for all the support they have received, and kick off the second year. 

“We just want to really give back to the community,” she said. “We’ve had so many partners who have given us money – the county, the city, individuals, foundations – just so many different people.”

In addition to shopping opportunities on the fully packed truck, Mercy Health and the county will be sponsoring vouchers to shop on the mobile market.

“The truck is for anyone that lives in a food desert, and we all live in a food desert,” she said. “Any and everybody will be able to shop on the truck wherever it is at.”

About 15 other community groups will be in attendance, giving away a variety of prizes.

“We encourage the whole family [to come to the event],” she said. “Teach your family how to shop.”

Everyone is invited to shop at the mobile market.

“Everything we sell goes back into buying the groceries,” she said. “That’s where Jeff comes in.”

For the first few years, pop-up markets were held over the summer. Food was used from Flying High’s GROW Urban Farm.

GROW Urban Farm was created by Flying High to produce locally grown produce to be distributed into food deserts and be a tool for work acclamation for individuals in the program looking to reinvent their lives after incarceration or addiction.

(Facebook | The Mahoning Valley Mobile Market)

Magada said the participation in the pop-up markets not only granted easier food access, but also helped with workforce development for his students going through the program. Produce includes peppers, tomatoes, radishes, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, greens, lettuce, cabbage, watermelon and more.

“Finally, it came to a point where we said, ‘How can we reach more people better?'” he said. “Action had went and looked at the mobile market in Stark County and invited me along.”

After looking at the mobile market, they decided not only to do it, but to do it even better. 

“[We served] about 9,000 in one year,” Magada said. “That is really more than I personally thought we would do. We just thought, ‘Put it out there and see if the need is there,’ and obviously it is.” 

Magada said it is touching to see how many people who need and depend upon the mobile store have been impacted by their work.

Sites visited are determined by the greatest need. 

“We have a lot of senior high rises that we go to,” he said. “We go into neighborhood development, housing development, and then we go into community organizations where there may be people that are used to gathering there.”

In addition to the produce, meat products are also available.

“They will find all the meats, from steaks, to ribs, to ground chuck, to ground beef, to chicken – wings, legs, thighs, breasts – to all dairy products,” Magada said.

Meats on the mobile market are sourced from Horst Packaging Inc., a butcher in Columbiana County.

“We try in the mobile market to harvest as much local product as we can, that way they are distributing it locally, and I think people feel good about buying local,” Magada said. 

The eggs also are sourced from a local farm, and the jams come from another local provider.

Magada said it is especially important for the community to have access to fruits and vegetables post-COVID, because of their immune system building and healthful properties. 

“It’s vital,” he said. “It’s the seed while we’re waiting for grocery stores to come into the city.”

Grocery stores generally go where there is greater money flow, Magada said, therefore making these limited population areas low volume for those grocery stores. He said economic and community development is needed to fix these issues.

A Trumbull County mobile market has already been ordered in February and will be available sometime in the fall, Magada said. 

Carter said she hopes to one day get a fleet of mobile markets.

“There are no plans to stop because no matter how many grocery stores, how many other mobile trucks or even farmers markets or community garden markets that we have, there are always those most vulnerable people that can not get to a grocery store – our senior citizens, she said.”

Pictured at top: Rose Carter, left, executive director of Action, and Jeff Magada, executive director of Flying High Inc.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.