Coronavirus Impact: Farmers market on wheels brings healthy food to seniors, others in need during pandemic

NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) -- Getting fresh produce is often challenging for senior citizens, but it is especially tough during the pandemic when many do not want to risk their health with frequent trips to a grocery store.

That's why demand is growing for a popular farmers' market on wheels that travels all over Marin County.

The food truck packed with fresh fruit and vegetables is called the "Rollin' Root." It is operated by the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM), the same organization that runs many farmers' markets around the Bay Area.

The Rollin' Root brings the "farmers' market directly to communities in need, both older adult communities as well as food desert communities, places where there may be limited access to local and fresh and healthy organic produce" said Andy Naja-Riese, CEO of AIM.

The mobile market actually started about a year and a half ago, operating just one day a week. But now there is so much demand, it runs three days a week, stopping at about 10 locations.

Clara Lamers is thrilled to have the Rollin' Root show up near her home at the Marin Valley Mobile Country Club, a mobile home park for seniors in Novato.

Lamers, who uses a walker, told us she rarely goes out because she is at high risk for contracting COVID-19, but she can easily walk over to get her produce when the truck comes by once a week.

On the day ABC7 News visited, we saw Lamers and other residents all wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart as they waited to point out what they wanted to buy and have the staff bag it up.

"Our research has shown that price and mobility are two of the largest barriers to being able to eat a healthy diet here in the Bay Area," Naja-Riese said.

Shopper Mary Barbosa called the program a "lifesaver" during this COVID-19 era.
"And their prices are good!" said shopper Tara Plocher, who also volunteers as an ambassador to coordinate between the Rollin' Root and the community.

The Rollin' Root is also a huge hit at the Maria B. Freitas Senior Community in San Rafael, where people were already in line before the truck showed up.

Similar to AIM's policy at traditional farmers' markets, the mobile farmers market accepts CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps. "We also provide a market match, so we match up to $10 (per day) for CalFresh cardholders, and that's for free fruits and vegetables" Naja-Riese explained.

The truck provides more than just healthy food, according to manager Karima Hay. "We're able to help spread joy to communities because they kind of use this as their time out of the house. Especially right now, this is like their grocery trip and they get to see all their friends while they're doing it," Hay said.

Shopper Steve Plocher would like to see the program expanded. "They should do this everywhere. It's like delivery, only you get to pick out your own stuff."

The Rollin' Root truck is subsidized by foundation grants and community donations to help keep prices affordable. You can see the schedule here.See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.