KU students to launch mobile market 'oasis' in Wyandotte County food desert

Posted at 8:08 AM, Sep 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-01 09:48:56-04

WYANDOTTE COUNTY, Kan. -- An old beer truck could soon be an oasis for 21,000 people in Wyandotte County living in a food desert, a potential solution for a neighborhood that hasn't had regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables for as much as a decade.

A group of students and staff from the University of Kansas are turning the old beer truck into a mobile food market focused on accessibility, convenience and affordability.

The student group, headed up by Professor of Architecture & Design Nils Gore and doctoral student Matt Kleinmann, has worked for 18 months to study the food landscape and line up both non-profit and business partnerships. Gore was connected to the project by the community Health Council of Wyandotte County and the health insurance company Humana.

Last semester, his class interviewed people in Wyandotte County, picked the truck and selected what elements it should feature. Residents said affordability was the most important factor.

“If you can get to better grocery store options, chances are you're going to eat better food and reduce things like type 2 diabetes,” said Kleinmann, as he explained the class’ (and Humana's) interest in the project.

Grant money helped the group put about $45,000 of work into the truck. They anticipate an operating cost of about $75,000 annually, some of which will be split between two workers. One will drive the truck; the other will work as an interpreter and service person.

Over the summer, Gore welded pull-out shelves and other parts onto the truck to prepare for the project.

“The food can come in and out of communities without having things roll around inside the truck,” said Matt Kleinmann, a doctoral student who worked as a mentor on this project.

Students also selected doors that open at eye level. They did not want people to feel like they had to climb into the truck to access it.

“The refrigeration is something we will have to start testing soon. We will have a refrigeration unit built into the truck to keep the meat, cheese, milk and things cool,” explained Kleinmann.

Gore and Kleinmann expect for the truck to up and running in January 2018.

People in the community can get involved and help to name for the mobile market.  Submissions are welcome from Wyandotte County residents.