Pictured left to right: Kirsten Walter, Director of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, Emily Horton, representing Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Stephanie Aquilina Food Access Program Manager for Cultivating Community, Sherie Blumenthal, Food Access Coordinator St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, Mayor of Auburn, Jonathan LaBonte, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation President, Karen Voci, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Vice President, Edward Kane.
At the Police Athletic League (PAL) Center this afternoon, state and local officials joined St. Mary’s Nutrition Center of Lewiston, Cultivating Community of Portland, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation to launch the Good Food Bus – a colorful, repurposed school bus turned mobile food market. The Good Food Bus, part of the three-year initiative, Good Food Moves, will make stops across Lewiston-Auburn and surrounding communities thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. The 2015 season of the Good Food Bus will run through October 30th; it will resume next spring.
“At Harvard Pilgrim, we know that health prevention often starts with the food we eat, and for some, accessing healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables can be challenging,” said Karen Voci, President of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. “Across the country, organizations are using mobile markets to increase access to fresh and local fruits and vegetables. Here in New England, Harvard Pilgrim is launching a fleet of mobile markets to address this challenge and create better access to healthy food.” In addition to the Good Food Bus, Harvard Pilgrim has funded mobile markets in Worcester, Mass., Hartford, Conn., Lowell, Mass., and is preparing to launch a market in Manchester, N.H. in 2016.
“Starting today, the Good Food Bus will sell fresh, local and fairly priced produce and other food items directly to people where they live, work and play,” said Kirsten Walter, Director of the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, as she kicked off the event. “Increasing the availability and accessibility of healthy food to everyone in our community is a very important goal of the Good Food Bus. We are thrilled to work with close partners, passionate area businesses, and community members to make this a lasting resource.”
During the initial phase for the 2015 harvest season, the Good Food Bus will make the following scheduled stops through the month of October. Stops are open to the public except for the Bath Iron Works location.
12-2pm: PAL Center, 24 Chestnut Street, Auburn
3-5pm: Knox Street Community Garden, 61 Knox St., Lewiston
11am-1pm: Bath Iron Works, West Gate (not open to the public)
3:30-5:30pm: Central Maine Medical Center, 300 Main St., location TBD, Lewiston
12:30-2:30pm: Bedard Pharmacy and Medical Supply, 359 Minot Ave., Auburn
3:30-5:30pm: St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, 100 Campus Ave. by parking lot A, Lewiston
While not able to attend the event in person, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree sent a statement through staffer Emily Horton, stating, “I love this idea. Maine is lucky to have so many great farmers markets around the state, but that doesn’t mean everyone has access or can afford it. Bringing healthy and affordable food grown right here in Maine to communities in Androscoggin is a great way to make sure everyone has access to a farmers market without actually going to one. And even better if it can accept EBT and other market incentives that provide more options for low-income Mainers. I can’t wait to see the Good Food Bus in action.”
Walter explained the genesis and goals of the project by referencing a Community Food Assessment conducted by the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn (GFCLA) and published in 2013.
“This report found that healthy food remains out of reach for many people in Lewiston-Auburn and other studies have shown this to be true for people across the state,” said Walter. “This multi-year initiative will make scheduled stops at neighborhoods, organizations, and businesses serving the Lewiston/Auburn community and will make purchasing good food convenient and easy for all.”
Sherie Blumenthal, project lead for the Nutrition Center, explained that the Good Food Bus will accept cash, credit, debit, WIC, and SNAP/EBT at every stop and increase the purchasing power of SNAP benefits for people to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables into their homes.
Auburn Mayor, Jonathan LaBonte, highlighted the City of Auburn’s support for projects that serve the community. “While it may be invisible to many residents, too many families and young people in our community are starting their days and going to bed hungry. I’m proud of the private, and public, partnerships that are working to expand access to good food while at the same time improving quality of life in our city.” Harvard Pilgrim is also supporting development of a community garden on Webster St. in Auburn, in the same neighborhood as the PAL Center.
“The goal is that the Good Food Bus will not only be a bountiful market, but also a fun place for people to connect,” said Stephanie Aquilina, project lead for Cultivating Community.
“Having access to great, nutritious food is of course critical to community health,” remarked Craig Lapine, Cultivating Community Executive Director. “And we are always particularly interested in strategies that involve local farmers and purveyors. That’s because a robust food economy amplifies all the great community health impacts of good food.” Indeed, the Good Food Bus will have a strong local foods preference, with many products from Androscoggin County farms and around the region.
In addition to Harvard Pilgrim support, other generous donations are helping to make this project possible. The bus was donated by the William H. Jordan Farm of Cape Elizabeth, and Hudson Bus Lines is donating bus driver services for the project. Grants from the Quimby Family Foundation and the John T. Gorman Foundation have been instrumental in getting the Good Food Bus on the road, and a Community Food Projects grant from the USDA will support staffing and food sourcing for the next three years.
The event culminated with a raffle drawing and Mayor LaBonte and Karen Voci cutting the ribbon and officially opening the Good Food Bus for customers to buy good food.
To learn more about the project, visit www.facebook.com/GoodFoodBus, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call St. Mary’s Nutrition Center at 207-513-3848.
The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim’s mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation provides the tools, training and leadership to help build healthy communities throughout Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. In 2014, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded close to $2.9 million in grants to nearly 710 nonprofit organizations in the region. Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has granted more than $133 million in funds throughout the four states. For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.
St. Mary’s Nutrition Center
St. Mary’s Nutrition Center was founded by St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston in 2006 to promote community health through organizing, advocacy and education across the Androscoggin County area. Based on the belief that good health relies upon access to healthy food, the Nutrition Center uses a multi-pronged public health approach: building individual capacity for people to grow, choose and cook nutritious foods; and building community capacity to support a strong regional food system. Core programming includes hands-on cooking, gardening, and nutrition education for all ages; community gardens for over 120 families of low-income; intensive job training programs for over 50 teens per year; year-round farmers’ markets; emergency food distribution 375 people weekly; and collaborative, community based assessment and planning activities. For more information, please visit: www.stmarysnutritioncenter.org.
Founded in 2001, Cultivating Community creates and sustains greater access to healthy, local foods; empowers people to play many roles in restoring the local, sustainable food system; and models, teaches, and advocates for ecological food production. With farming, teaching, & learning sites in Cumberland and Androscoggin Counties, Cultivating Community in collaboration with participant/leaders each year grows, harvests, and distributes $200,000 in food; provides training for over 1,000 youth; creates food access for over 4,000 people with low/middle incomes; and in 2015 is supporting 60 new American families in establishing independent farm businesses. For more information, please visit: www.cultivatingcommunity.org.