‘Freshest’ ride on campus

It’s 10:55 a.m. on a chilly, overcast morning in the Los Medanos College outdoor quad. It’s a fairly uneventful and quiet morning — a few friends talking, a few birds chirping, but no real commotion.

A minute later a stark white truck has just pulled out from behind the Science building, practically out of nowhere, and parked in the main quad between the library and math building. It sports a logo with the words “Freshest Cargo” in bright orange next to green decals of assorted produce on its passenger side.

The driver’s side door opens and Rachel Ward, 26, emerges from the truck and lifts a sheet of metal on the truck’s side. Some indeterminate pinkish vegetable matter falls out from underneath the sheet, and she quickly scoops it up and disposes of it.

She lifts the sheet once more and reveals a set of shelves upon which boxes full of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs are stacked. A whiteboard with pound-to-price ratios written on it in black marker hangs from the top right corner. Inside the cockpit, there are boxes of strawberries and bundles of flowers for sale as well.

It’s now 11 a.m., and the Freshest Cargo Mobile Farmer’s Market — a cross between a food truck and a farmer’s market that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase drive-in – has just opened for business. The first customer of the day is already browsing the truck’s wares and having a friendly chat with Ward, who is going through the last steps of set up.

Ward has worked as a Freshest Cargo driver and Nutrition Educator for Fresh Approach, the organization that maintains the Freshest Cargo program among other ones, for about a month. Her previous work experience includes eight years at a local farmer’s market in her home state of Kentucky. She drives her mobile market truck along the East Contra Costa County route every Tuesday, making stops at the Nick Rodriguez Center in Antioch and the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services building in Pleasant Hill in addition to LMC.

The Freshest Cargo program, which has been run by Fresh Approach for 4 years, maintains two trucks and currently operates 6 routes a week, making stops all throughout the Bay Area on different days of the week.

The trucks carry produce from fresh and local sources, meaning the program is an honest and true farmer’s market on wheels — no artificial additives or substitutes here. The purpose and mission behind the program is to “improve health and food access in the Bay Area,” especially in “places where there aren’t many options for farmer’s markets,” said Ward.

To this end, Freshest Cargo has a program called Market Match that gives a 50 percent discount to those who pay with EBT, CalFresh or other similar benefits, and gives them $10 in Cargo Cash for every $10 they spend, to “double the value of those benefits,” said Ward.

“They first came to LMC a few years ago, and we kept them around because a lot of staff and students enjoy their presence,” said John Nguyen, Student Life Coordinator at LMC, who authorizes Freshest Cargo to visit the campus.

“What we’re trying to encourage here on campus is sustainability and healthy eating for everyone.”

It seems to be working — according to impact reports from freshapproach.org, the program distributed 24,845 pounds of produce, improved access to healthy food to 23,000 Contra Costa County residents, and benefited 44 local farms in 2015 alone.

Freshest Cargo makes a stop at LMC’s main quad every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. For information, visit freshapproach.org, view the Fresh Approach page on Facebook, or view @FreshestCargo on either Twitter or Instagram.