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Mobile food shuttles fight food insecurity in ENC

Ripe for Revival.JPG
Ryan Shaffer / PRE
The shuttle is one community effort to deliver fresh produce to food deserts, or areas with few or no convenient options to get affordable, healthy foods.

Ripe for Revival is a Rocky Mount nonprofit. It started a food shuttle service last summer, with stops in Rocky Mount and Littleton. Now, it’s scheduled a weekly stop in Winterville. The Ripe for Revival food shuttle seeks to address food insecurity by purchasing crops from local farmers that would have otherwise gone to waste. PRE’s Ryan Shaffer has this report. . .

Every Thursday, for the next 3 weeks, the Ripe for Revival Food Shuttle sets up camp in Winterville for its pay-what-you can mobile farmer's market.

You enter through the front and on the right is shelves of fresh produce. On the left is refrigerators. And at the end is the station where you pay what you can.

The shuttle is one community effort to deliver fresh produce to food deserts, or areas with few or no convenient options to get affordable, healthy foods. Craven, Pitt and Onslow counties are among the highest in ENC when it comes to the number of people with limited access to fresh produce. Winterville is the latest stop added for the Ripe for Revival food shuttle. JT Tyndall is the one overseeing this stop, he says the nonprofit is looking to expand to new locations.

"Our goal with the mobile market is to take these buses, have 15 routes a week and be in 15 consistent locations with each bus," he said. "It’ll impact the community and that’s why we say we’re reviving communities through food."

JT Tyndall Ripe for Revival.JPG
Ryan Shaffer / PRE
JT Tyndall oversees the Ripe for Revival stop in Winterville.

The food shuttle is an innovative solution, not just for addressing hunger but also for supporting farmers. For some farmers, 1/3 of their produce does not make it to store shelves. That’s where Ripe for Revival comes in.

"They’re losing money off it by just letting it sit there and rot and throwing it away" Tyndall said. "So, we’re able to take that excess and make it accessible to food insecure areas. We’re paying the farmer for the product and then we’re taking it to people that need it."

The produce on sale is marked down compared to grocery stores, but even then, visitors are encouraged to pay what they can.

The need for fresh produce in food insecure areas is high, and connecting with local farmers to collect produce is a solution also adopted by the Interfaith Food shuttle, which serves parts of Central and Eastern NC. Kylee McCombs is the educational coordinator at the Interfaith Food shuttle.

"One of the things that we have always noticed is that when we drop produce off, where we are dropping it off, whether its rescued or not, it’s always the first to go," McCombs said."It’s always the first request that out agency partners have of us is like access to produce."

In addition to purchasing from farmers, the Interfaith Food Shuttle also takes, or rescues, food from grocery stores that are no longer deemed ‘store ready.’

"So, they’re like, this is no longer worthy of being on our shelves," McCombs said. "A second way that we rescue produce is when farmers markets or local farmers have what we consider to be like ugly produce. Even though it’s ugly, it’s still edible, it’s still nutritionally dense."

Food insecurity is an issue affecting 1 in 10 North Carolinians, with Jones, Lenoir, and Washington counties experiencing the highest rates in Eastern North Carolina.

Candi Parker is the New Bern Branch Director for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. She says there are several factors that contribute to North Carolina’s higher rate of food insecurity.

"North Carolina is overall a rural state. If you think about the counties that the New Bern Branch services, Pamlico and Jones, there’s a couple of small cities in there, but folks are really spread out," she said.

Employment and poverty rates are also indicators of food insecurity.

The goal of all these organizations is to address hunger in areas that are affected by it most.

"We’re making sure that produce is not going to waste, and making sure that whatever produce we rescue get put into hand of somebody who will consume it. We’re making sure that it doesn’t go to landfills as well," McCombs said.

The Ripe for Revival bus stops at Integrity Church at 569 Irish Lane in Winterville on Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.

Ripe for Revival Bus.JPG
Ryan Shaffer / PRE
The Ripe for Revival food shuttle visits Winterville on Thursdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée and two cats.