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Mobile food market pilot program serves rural Bastrop County

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 2/25/2020 By Brandon Mulder, Austin American-Statesman
a bowl of fruit sitting on a table: The Bastrop County Food Access and Nutrition Project is hosting a series of mobile food markets in Rockne as part of a pilot project to increase food access and test a new food access model in rural Bastrop County. [Contributed photo] © Contributed photo/statesman/Austin American-Statesman/TNS The Bastrop County Food Access and Nutrition Project is hosting a series of mobile food markets in Rockne as part of a pilot project to increase food access and test a new food access model in rural Bastrop County. [Contributed photo]

A nutrition program in Bastrop County launched a mobile food market in Rockne this month as a pilot project that will bring fresh produce to the rural community every weekend.

The Bastrop County Food Access and Nutrition Program will be at the Rockne Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2527 every Saturday, weather permitting, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to sell produce in rural Bastrop County. A majority of the produce will be cultivated from Farmshare Austin's 10-acre organic teaching farm located along the Travis-Bastrop county line, where the group teaches people how to farm.

a bunch of food on a picnic table: The Bastrop County Food Access and Nutrition Project is hosting a series of mobile food markets in Rockne as part of a pilot project to increase food access and test a new food access model in rural Bastrop County. [Contributed photo] © Contributed photo/statesman/Austin American-Statesman/TNS The Bastrop County Food Access and Nutrition Project is hosting a series of mobile food markets in Rockne as part of a pilot project to increase food access and test a new food access model in rural Bastrop County. [Contributed photo]

The market accepts cash, credit and debit cards, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps and Double Up Food Bucks, which double the value of food stamps. Prices for the organic produce sold at the market are comparable to the prices of non-organic produce sold at H-E-B, organizers said.

The program is aimed at finding a new model to provide access to fresh organic foods in rural micro-communities located 10 to 20 miles afrom a grocery store. Farmshare Austin has 12 mobile food markets in and around Travis County and Austin, but finding a model for rural Bastrop County is its own distinct puzzle.

"We don't want to just plop our model into a rural community, we want to make sure that we are partnering with the community to help them reach their own goal," said Andrea Abel, executive director of Farmshare Austin.

Around 42% of Bastrop County residents have limited access to a full-service grocery store, according to the pilot program's organizers. Of those people with limited access, about 12% are food insecure — or people who lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. These residents typically live outside major cities in remote areas with little access to fresh produce, the group said.

Farmshare Austin and Dell Medical School's Community-Driven Initiatives program, which funds and studies pilot projects that benefit public health, partnered with Bastrop County Cares and Texas Agrilife to pinpoint the communities that would benefit the most from the food market. In addition to the Rockne and Red Rock area, Cedar Creek and McDade also made the shortlist.

Rockne, however, was chosen because project coordinators were able to find a community partner that could house the market — the Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

The Community-Driven Initiatives program will review sales data and community impact before looking for grant opportunities to sustain or expand the program in Rockne, Cedar Creek and McDade.

"Our hope would be that the market could continue in Rockne, but we're not a grantor, so we can't support the market ongoing," said Marianna Espinoza, the learning and evaluation manager of Community-Driven Initiatives. "That's what we would hope — that we can get that data then find those opportunities that would help keep the market going in Rockne and possibly expand to other areas."

Already, turnout during the first two weekends of the food market has been auspicious.

"I was thrilled with the turnout the first two weeks," Abel said. "There was a steady supply of customers and lots of enthusiasm for the produce that we had there."

The program will continue every Saturday though April 25, though it could be extended if weather forces any cancellations, organizers said.

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