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City of Columbia launching mobile food market in effort to combat food deserts

The City of Columbia has a food disparity problem. According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Food Desert Map, there are over 10 food deserts in the capital city alone.

Food deserts are urban areas where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.

To combat limited access to fresh foods in Columbia, the city launched a mobile food market in partnership with Toms Creek Family Farms.

City officials allocated money received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to fund the venture.

“We're excited because just of the overwhelming need for healthy food access and how this brings the food to where people are rather than having to just not find access and be hungry every day,” said Rev. Erick Fink with More Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving community problems by holding systems accountable.

Officials said the mobile market will serve areas in Columbia with zip codes 29203 and 29204 having the priority. The market will accommodate fresh produce, proteins, dairy, and fresh baked goods.

The two zip codes were considered deserts because the nearest grocery store was approximately 20 minutes away.

Starting March 4 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., the Toms Creek Family Farms Mobile Market will be at the following locations:

· Hyatt Park, 950 Jackson Ave, Monday

· Greenview Park, 6700 David Street, Tuesday

· Edgewood Library, 2101 Oak Street, Wednesday

The mobile food market will offer at least 85% of produce grown from Toms Creek Family Farms and other local farmers when available.

The solution to solve the food disparity problem in Columbia has been in development for nearly a decade. The concept of the mobile food market started in 2017 but was delayed due to the pandemic.

In 2023, the Columbia City Council approved a grocery store stimulus program where stores would receive a 100% (for new businesses) or 75% (for existing businesses) rebate of their business license fees each year for a total of five years.

“We recognize the challenges, we’re trying various ways to approach the food disparity problem and solve them,” said District One Councilwoman Tina Herbert.

There will also be a platform for nutritional education in an effort to promote healthy eating habits.

“This market will offer an opportunity to collaborate with local farmers, markets, and organizations to create sustainable and affordable food solutions,” added District II Councilman Edward McDowell Jr.

Officials are encouraged that other locations will be added soon.

Marcus Flowers is an award-winning content producer who specializes in various topics.