Kelwattee Mohabir has her eye on the Caribbean sweet potatoes. At $1.10 a pound, they’re cheaper than at most grocery stores—if they’re available at all. That Mohabir is shopping for the elusive legumes inside her own apartment building is just an added bonus. Since July, she has been buying fruits and vegetables from FoodShare’s Mobile Good Food Market, a truck that travels to eight neighbourhoods in Toronto’s inner suburbs to sell fresh, affordable produce.
Mohabir’s apartment building on Lotherton Pathway is in an isolated community of mid-rise towers and townhouses near Caledonia Road and Lawrence Avenue. The closest supermarket is a 20-minute walk away and bus service in the area is inconvenient. Add to that a large population of seniors, and you have one of the most dire food deserts in the city, according to the mobile market’s coordinator, Afua Asantewaa.
“Lotherton Pathway is our number one market in terms of turnout and sales,” said Asantewaa as she rung up a customer’s purchase last Thursday (the market was held indoors due to the chilly weather). In fact, when residents heard the market was only a pilot project, scheduled to end in March, they started a petition to make it permanent.
Selling produce from a truck is illegal in Toronto, but FoodShare got a temporary permit from the city. And it’s clear that there’s a demand for a roving supply of fresh produce, as customers were still filing into the room 15 minutes after closing time. Four months in, however, it’s unclear whether the mobile market could work as a business. “To make a profit out of it will be difficult,” Asantewaa said. FoodShare marks up its prices by only 20 per cent. “And not many businesses can afford to do that.”