The Fresh Moves bus rolled out to North Lawndale and Austin last week amid great fanfare. Its first Austin stop was Hubert Spencer Elementary Math and Science Academy.

Spencer Academy Principal Shawn Jackson was on hand to greet the bus when it visited on May 28, with Ald. Jason Erwin present. Cameras rolled as a happy crowd greeted the Fresh Moves bus, followed by lines of children filing through the bus and emerging with bananas, apples and oranges.

“We talk about health care and staying healthy,” Jackson said, “but awareness and resources are two different things. Fresh Moves has the resources – healthy produce. So we couldn’t pass it up when it came to our neighborhood. We want to model the behavior we want to see in our students.

“I hope they will get excited, go home and tell their parents about the items they were able to purchase. Instead of always saying, ‘I want money for a Happy Meal,’ they will say, ‘I want some money for the Fresh Moves bus.'”

After a 2006 report by Mari Gallagher identified Chicago neighborhoods without fresh produce grocers, Food Desert Action found that trying to build its own store would be too expensive. Instead, the group opted to team with Goodcity to start a nonprofit, donor-supported program that provides a market on wheels.

Using a variety of census and health statistics, Gallagher calculated that more people tended to be overweight and prone to diabetes in neighborhoods with a lopsided proportion of fast food outlets versus full-service grocery stores. She coined the term “food deserts” to describe Austin and several other Chicago neighborhoods, mainly on the South and West sides.

Customers enter the front door of the former CTA bus, which was donated to Food Desert Action for $1, to pick out produce from shelves on both sides, and then pay at a counter by the back door as they leave. The bus is climate-controlled, but Thursday’s cool, rainy weather kept the produce fresh.

Children bought their favorite fruits, while older residents took home bags of green onions and lettuce (both grown locally at Lawndale’s Green Youth Farm) plus beans, broccoli, pineapples, yams, potatoes and much more.

Local School Council member Carol Johnson, who lives around the corner and whose two children are Spencer alumni, took home a bag full of groceries.

“It’s great they’re doing this,” she said.

But how do you get kids to eat vegetables?

“Come up on the second floor and see,” said Spencer’s Parent University volunteer Darryl D. Bright.

Upstairs, Chef Monica and the Tasteful Manners program were showing upper-grade students how to eat “salad on a stick,” a shish kebab combination of Colby cheese, spinach, cucumbers and pineapple. Tasty Manners sets the table twice a week after school with students in kindergarten through third-grade, teaching them to shop, cut, mix, cook and eat the vegetables together. The meal is where the manners come in.

“We see kids come to school with flamin’ hots and soda pop all the time,” said Tasty Manners instructor Valerie Matthews. “My grandparents in the South grew their own food. And dinnertime was at the table. That was family time. We need to get back to that.”

Fresh Moves project director Dara Cooper added, “Now I’ve been all over the world and found foods I’m in love with that I’d never heard of before. Why can’t everyone have this opportunity?”

Where can you find the bus?

Thursdays (Austin):

  • Spencer Tech, 214 N. Lavergne, 9:30 a.m. to noon
  • Phalanx Family Services, 4628 W. Washington, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • Bethel New Life, 4952 W. Thomas, 3 to 5 p.m.

Wednesdays (North Lawndale):

  • Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3860 W. Ogden, 9 to 11 a.m.
  • Sankofa Safe Child Initiative, 4041 W. Roosevelt, 12 to 2 p.m.
  • Green Youth Farm, 3555 W. Ogden, 3 to 5 p.m.



"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...