Rolling Marin County farmer's market stopped by dangerous airbag

MARIN, Calif. (KGO) -- A Marin County nonprofit that runs several farmer's markets had a novel idea: Why not put one of the markets on wheels and bring fresh produce to isolated areas?

It was an ambitious project fraught with big challenges, all of which they conquered, until a tiny detail stopped the whole project in its tracks -- for years.

"It's beyond frustrating,'' said Bridget Moran, then-CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Marin. She started the drive to build the mobile market nearly a decade ago.

RELATED: 7 On Your Side helps Marin County food truck get road ready

The group first had to raise money and persuaded several foundations to donate a combined $180,000 for the project. They then purchased a brand new Mercedes Sprinter truck and searched for a company that could convert it to a free-standing, rolling market.

"We tried to get it done in America and we couldn't find any company that could do what we had in mind,'' Moran said. "I wanted something like I'd seen in Europe."

So the group wound up shipping the Mercedes by boat all the way to France, where a company transformed the truck into a convertible storefront complete with a pull-up side, glass-covered cases, refrigerators and plumbing. The truck returned to great excitement and an unanticipated brick wall.

"It was, are you kidding, come on, this is ridiculous,'' Moran said.

It turned out the truck was fitted with one of those potentially dangerous Takata airbags. The Marin group received a recall notice just as the truck was arriving back home. Some Takata airbags may explode, shoot out metal pieces and possibly kill someone.

"It said we shouldn't drive it, that it was dangerous,'' Moran said. "I can't in good conscience let anyone I know who works here drive that vehicle,''

At first they thought it would be a small problem compared to all they'd done to custom build the mobile market. However, the airbag turned out to be the most difficult hurdle.

With millions of airbags still under recall, there aren't enough replacements for everyone who needs one. Mercedes said it could not provide one, and told the Marin group to wait.

So their gleaming, custom built, $180,000 mobile truck sat idle in the parking lot.

And sat. And sat.

A year and a half later, there was still no available airbag.

"We tried everything. We went to our lawyer, he couldn't get it done. We asked if we bought another Mercedes and took that airbag out, nope we couldn't do that either. Where are we on the waiting list? We don't know. Nobody knew anything."

The truck was depreciating, the battery disconnected, the group trying to protect the precious vehicle with a sturdy RV cover.

The mobile market was stranded.

"I mean, we shipped a truck across the world and did all this major stuff yet it's a minor thing like an airbag that for more than a year has stopped us from bringing food to our local communities."

The group contacted 7 On Your Side and our team contacted Mercedes. Isn't there some way to find an airbag for this - a noble project?

Mercedes agreed to help, searched the globe, found an airbag, had the Santa Rosa dealer install it and -- the truck was rolling.

It took another year to get all the health and DMV permits. The group then covered the black truck in a colorful scheme with yellow, orange and green produce. It got a catchy name, the Rollin' Root. And just this week it rolled into its first delivery site - Whistlestop in San Rafael, then Marin Valley mobile home park in Novato.

"This is fabulous, I spent about ten dollars,'' said Janet Bogardus of Novato, holding bags stuffed with apples, mushrooms, organic strawberries and lettuce.

"It's farm to table,'' said Peggy Brackett, who filled bags with green beans, tomatoes, raspberries and onions. "I can drive to a farmer's market but if it's coming here, I'd rather do that. I can walk from my house."

"I was not planning to buy squash,'' said Jae Tillinghast of Novato. "But look how beautiful it is, oh my gosh. I love squash."

Many patrons were unaware of the saga that brought them the mobile market.

"Wow. Wow they shipped it to France? Good idea,'' Tillinghast said.

"So, they finally got the airbag? Oh, you got it?''' Bogardus asked ABC7. "How did you do that? So that's wonderful. Thank you Channel 7."

The Rollin' Root mobile farmer's market will roll every Thursday into various Marin County neighborhoods - usually near senior housing. To find out where it will be and when, visit this link.

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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