11/3/2012 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Diane Turner is president of Syracuse Farm Fresh Mobile Market. But to Turner, it’s more like a calling than a job.
Also the head of Southside Interfaith Market, the organization that launched Farm Fresh, Turner and a handful of volunteers coordinate the purchase and resale of produce. They regularly drive their produce van to inner-city areas where residents have little access to fresh produce because of a lack of transportation, their own limited mobility, or both.
“People don’t like to come out in the wintertime to stores,” Turner said. “A lot of seniors like for the market to come to them. It gives them the opportunity to shop and it helps them. Even if they have an aide, many times, aides aren’t allowed to go shopping for them.”
All year long, the Farm Fresh truck completes runs to three indoor sites per day. This totals about 40 sites throughout the city over the course of two weeks. Each site receives a visit at least every two weeks; some receive weekly visits from the produce truck.
The sites include Crouse Hospital, Syracuse Community Health Center, apartment complexes, community rooms and more. The schedule is posted on the organization’s website monthly and is printed on fliers for patrons.
Turner started the operation in 2007 after attending a regional convention in Philadelphia and meeting people from a similar type of operation in Oakland, Calif.
“I thought if they can do it, we can do it,” Turner said of Southside Interfaith Market.
Southside Interfaith was founded in 1995 by opening a food pantry and expanding to include networking among area church-based groups. Various projects include a free summer camp and other community enrichment programs. Launching the mobile market took the likes of Turner to come to fruition.
“I grew up on a farm,” Turner said. “I know what produce is. I had to grow this stuff, pick this stuff. I know what the quality is.”
During the summertime, Turner draws heavily on local farms and can supply nearly everything a mainstream produce department offers. During the winter, she orders from Southern California, Florida, Mexico and, her former state, North Carolina. Currently, all her produce is of American origin.
Wegmans helped the market obtain access to their own suppliers at the same pricing level the chain store receives, which helps Turner offer low prices to customers. Wegmans also provided Farm Fresh volunteers with training on safe food handling procedures.
Turner loves interacting with people, which helps draw customers again and again.
“When we go to the market, you get to know people,” she said. “They like to come and converse. Every week or two weeks, you see them. They become more than just customers. You know when someone’s missing. You begin to know names. The community comes together. It’s accessible for people and it’s open even to people who don’t live there (in that part of the city).”
In addition to produce, Turner has added some staples such as dry beans. The market funds itself through the profit it makes from produce sales. Turner buys from farmers at wholesale prices and charges nothing to the farmers who participate. Farm Fresh simply gives them another avenue for moving produce.
The market accepts EBT cards and cash.