In a county where nearly half the children are considered overweight, having access to healthy food becomes critical. Bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to Merced County’s rural communities is the goal of a new mobile grocery service called Make Someone Happy.
The Merced-based vendor will celebrate its launch during an event from 2 to 5p.m. Saturday at Golden Valley Health Center on 847 W. Childs Ave. in Merced. Co-owner Don Bergman spent Thursday in preparations by stocking the 30-foot trailer with fresh persimmons and almonds.
Make Someone Happy was awarded the yearlong $177,528 contract by the Merced County Board of Supervisors during a meeting last month. Bergman said the groceries will come exclusively from local certified Farmers Market vendors.
“We’re starting exclusively from Merced County, besides the apples which come from Stanislaus County,” said Bergman, who owns the nonprofit with his wife, Nancy. The truck will make weekly stops in unincorporated communities such as Winton, Planada, Le Grand and Snelling.
The stops for the mobile farmers’ market were selected based on criteria for “food deserts” — places that are more than a mile away from grocery stores and are considered low-income.
“The need is related to the areas where a lot of our low-income families live and don’t have easy access to a supermarket,” said Program Manager John Palm. “People who don’t have access to fresh foods tend to spend their money on fast food or go to a mini-mart and pick up unhealthy food options.”
An estimated 43percent of children in the county are overweight or obese, according to recent statistics from the county Department of Public Health. A 2010 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study that included adults and children found that 34.3percent of Merced County residents are obese.
That’s a trend that can be turned around with proper education and better access to healthy foods, said Claudia Corchado, program manager for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program.
“One of the biggest challenges, especially in the rural areas, is they are bombarded by the corner liquor store that sells processed, cheap, unhealthy foods,” Corchado said. “It’s a cruel irony that you take a community like Planada and it’s a farming community, but yet they don’t have access to it in their neighborhood stores.”
Corchado said bringing locally-grown fruits and vegetables to communities in need will create an environment where people have a choice.
“It’s really up to the parents now,” she said. “When we’re talking about obesity prevention, we’re talking about diabetes prevention. It’s the parents’ responsibility to teach that to the kids, because they’re the ones making the choices for them right now.”
Some residents have expressed concerns that the mobile grocery truck might compete with local supermarkets, but Palm said the county took that into consideration when selecting sites.
“Don and Nancy have been working with the community to find locations to not compete with grocery stores but to provide options for people who don’t have access,” Palm said.
John Adame, owner of Broadway Market in Planada, said he’s not concerned about competition from the mobile farmers’ market, although the truck will stop about a mile from his store.
“I don’t think it will take business away from us. If it does, it will be very minor,” said Adame, a 40-year business owner. “It’s not a concern at the moment, but if it takes off like wildfire and they start carrying other stuff, then it might be a concern.”
Bergman said his mission is to get fresh fruits and vegetables in the hands of people who need it the most. Make Someone Happy will give away free produce to about 25 customers each day and will hire two employees from candidates receiving unemployment benefits or general assistance.
The mobile service will be able to take several types of payment, Bergman added, including cash, credit cards, CalFresh and EBT cards.