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Farmers market on wheels

Boston residents who live in neighborhoods lacking access to healthy and affordable produce may soon be able to purchase high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost. Two alumni are working to convert a bus into the Fresh Truck, a social venture that would transport healthy food into “food deserts,” or districts in urban settings without wide access to grocery stores.

“Regardless of where you live or how much you make, everybody should be able to choose to be healthy,” said Daniel Clarke, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Fresh Truck and a 2012 graduate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, where he studied finance and entrepreneurship.

Clarke and fellow co-founder Josh Trautwein, the chief marketing officer and a 2010 sociology graduate, have worked closely with IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator, which helped them develop a flexible social business model with a focus on serving the community through accessible and affordable fruits and vegetables. The two are close to reaching their goal of raising $30,000 on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to buy the bus that would be converted to house their mobile produce shop.

Trautwein noted that the startup’s goal is to augment the work of community health organizations and other local nonprofit groups focused on educating residents about the importance of a healthy diet. They’ve been working with nonprofit organizations and city officials as they get closer to formally launching the truck, which they hope will hit the streets a few months after they purchase and retrofit it.

“A health center can only do so much and education programs are only so useful without access to healthy foods,” said Trautwein, who works for the Fitzgerald Youth Sports Institute, a Boston-based organization that targets barriers that restrict youth participation in sports and physical activity. “If people have to travel an hour to get to a supermarket to do their food shopping, they are more likely to buy processed foods that aren’t going to go bad in a week. We’re trying to make fresh food more readily accessible.”

The concept for Fresh Truck, which would run on recycled vegetable oil, is designed to make shopping for healthy food fun. Its features, for example, would include a sound system and a stage on the roof to be used for concerts and performances during community events. In addition to fresh produce, customers of Fresh Truck would regularly enjoy free samples, and recipes to take home.

Information about where the food for sale comes from—nearly all would be from local wholesalers, Clarke says—would be provided, much like what a shopper might find at a high-end supermarket like Whole Foods. Customers would be able to pay for their produce with cash or credit cards. Food stamps would also be accepted, the value of which would be doubled under a city of Boston initiative called Bounty Bucks.

“We want to help build health into the DNA of these communities,” Trautwein said. “We’re challenging the assumption that people in these neighborhoods just aren’t interested in buying fruits and vegetables. We think if we can make them accessible and affordable we can help change the way a lot of people think about food.”

Fresh Truck’s business model has been successful in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C.; as soon as Clarke and Trautwein raise enough money, they plan to work quickly to bring the business to at least three of Boston’s neighborhoods each day.

“We’re going to be learning more and changing things every day so we can make as big an impact as possible on our community,” Clarke said.