This farmers market in California’s Marin County rolls along.
Understanding that nothing beats the convenience of a market or prepared- food vendor that travels on four wheels, the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) took to the streets last summer with its own mobile outfit, the Rollin’ Root. A refurbished Sprinter van with refrigeration, storage, and display cases, Rollin’ Root is part of a larger comprehensive county-wide Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) strategy to increase access to fresh, healthy food grown on local farms and to provide nutrition education in underserved communities.
For the initial phase of the Rollin’ Root’s work, AIM chose to focus on serving the older adult population of Marin, developing a route of regularly scheduled stops at senior-focused locations around the county. “Seniors often lack transportation, so we created a model where we bring the truck directly to them,” says Andy Naja-Riese, CEO of AIM.
Although there were existing programs to supply food to local senior communities, including food pantries and distribution programs, AIM’s Rollin’ Root provides a certain kind of culinary freedom—the ability to “shop” for your own choices. With offerings of fresh, locally grown produce and dairy products, the Rollin’ Root reflects the ethos of the farmers market, something Naja-Riese says is important to the communities the Rollin’ Root serves. “Many seniors care about the environment, and eating these [locally and responsibly- produced] foods is important to our community,” he says.
The Rollin’ Root is funded by a number of grants, including one from SNAP-ED, the educational programming arm of the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as CalFresh). Another program, the California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIT), provides a market match up to $10 per day. Those eligible to use SNAP benefitsCalFresh at the farmers market can also do so at the Rollin’ Root. Senior Bonus Box, an additional program offered through the Interfaith Food Justice Collaborative, provides up to $60 a month to use for fresh vegetables at the Rollin’ Root.
“The goal is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among older adults,” Naja-Riese says.
The Rollin’ Root will further expand its footprint this summer, adding a route along coastal Marin and parts of San Geronimo between Fairfax and Lagunitas, and then a fourth route to San Francisco and parts of the East Bay.
Naja-Riese notes that, while the Rollin’ Root’s current grant focuses on older adults, anyone can access and experience the Rollin’ Root. At the Marin City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC), one of the Thursday stops, AIM is providing a job training program and helps supply the MCCDC’s restaurant. The Root’s Thursday route includes Whistlestop Active Aging Center near the San Rafael bus depot, attracting commuters and others waiting at the bus station.
Perhaps best of all, since it first launched operations in August of 2018, the Rollin’ Root has created a locale for spontaneous community gathering. “Neighbors are getting together, sharing ideas and saying hello,” says Naja-Riese. “It helps address socialization and alleviates isolation and loneliness, something one out of two Marin residents experience.” Turns out that one small step in offering diet diversity has societal reverberations that go much deeper.
For Bay Area residents who want to get involved, a Rollin’ Root ambassador program is under development, and AIM is looking for community members to help with outreach and nutrition education programs along its route.
*This story comes to us from Edible Marin & Wine Country. Photo by Karen Pavone.