Mobile distribution efforts to bring fruits and vegetables to food deserts have been a repeatedly-tried solution for bringing healthy food into the hands of those who need it. The recent trend with food businesses is to go mobile, with food trucks popping up on every street corner. For food justice advocates, that means filling school buses, ice cream trucks and old postal trucks with fresh produce and other less-processed foods to get real sustenance to the less fortunate – at least so far.
Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich of Stockbox are approaching the problem from a different angle: what would happen if you take the wheels off? The Seattle-based startup is building mini-grocery stores out of reclaimed shipping containers and sticking them into parking lots of existing businesses – bringing fresh food to people who live in areas with limited or no access to healthy, affordable meals. As the limited hours and availability of mobile projects were often leaving customers unfulfilled, the focus here is staying power.
“A lot of what people are looking for isn't just intermittent access to good food, it's reliable access to good food,” says Ferrence.
So why shipping containers? Ferrence and Gjurgevich were drawn to the idea of upcycling products that were no longer useful for the shipping industry, but could still have another 40-50 years of life in them. Plus, the containers are portable, easy-to-locate, and the ideal building material (the size allows them to easily add-on to or grow stores as needed).
Recently funded with over $20,000 from KickStarter, the Stockbox team spent the summer building a prototype store that recently opened in Seattle's Deldrige neighborhood. The majority of the community's residents are working-class and heavily dependent on public transportation. Many have to take one to two buses to the nearest grocery store, or otherwise have to resort to convenience store food options.
Stockbox is innovating on the espresso stand model, essentially creating a pop-up retail space that is stocked full of good, healthy grocery staples. The goal is to create easy access to fresh food centers that are within walking distance of home, work and school for residents of these urban communities.
Although a tiny store, the Deldridge prototype has already met a big need. The 20-foot-long container is stocked with 300 different products, 10% of which is fresh produce. The location will be up and running for two months this fall.
The store model is easily scalable and collapsable via crane and flatbed truck, so Stockbox stores can pop up easily in just about any area with a parking lot. Working closely with local food access projects and area residents, the Stockbox team plans to open several permanent locations in early 2012.