(TRENTON) – Food deserts in cities will soon be less deserted, as legislation sponsored by Assembly members Gilbert L. “Whip” Wilson, Celeste M. Riley, Annette Quijano, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mila M. Jasey to create a statewide mobile farmers’ market network in New Jersey’s urban areas received final legislative approval Monday.

The bill was approved 55-20-4, and now heads to the governor’s desk.

“We’re known as ‘The Garden State,’ yet in many urban communities, it is next to impossible for low-income families to purchase fresh produce,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “By bringing the farm directly to these communities, we’re restoring their access to the Jersey Fresh produce that the rest of us take for granted. This will also assist our farmers by giving them an opportunity to expand their markets to areas that they have had little exposure to in the past.”

The bill (A-3688) requires the state Department of Agriculture to establish a statewide mobile farmer’s market designed to provide improved access to fresh produce for residents who live in communities lacking supermarkets, grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

“No one should have to go without fresh produce or other healthy foods because of where they live,” said Riley (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester). “This measure allows us to fill the void that prevents these residents from exploring healthier options, by bringing the produce section right to their neighborhoods via mobile farmer’s markets.”

“Many residents in urban areas rely on corner stores. While convenient, they often lack the variety of produce that can be found in supermarkets and farmers’ markets,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Giving residents who live in these food deserts better food options will hopefully lead to healthier meals at the dinner table.”

“A trip to the supermarket may seem routine to most of us, but for some families, it can be a real hurdle due to distance and lack of transportation,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Access to fresh produce should not be determined by geography. Giving these residents the opportunity to purchase healthier foods in their own communities is only fair.”

“For some families, being able to eat healthier is not only a matter of access, but affordability,” said Jasey (D-Essex). “This measure allows residents who receive government-issued food vouchers from any state or federal nutrition or income assistance program to use these vouchers to purchase produce and other healthy foods from fresh mobile vendors.”

Specifically, the Department of Agriculture would be required to:

  • Establish qualification standards for, and issue licenses or permits, to fresh mobile vendors and fresh mobile venues (or food trucks);
  • Designate vendor supply areas in the state’s urban food desert communities
  • Develop nutrition-related educational materials and purchasing incentives for use in the initiative

The bill also directs the Secretary of Agriculture to select at least one city in each of the three regions of the state to implement the Fresh Mobiles Initiative. As part of the bill, the department must list the selected cities, the location of the fresh mobile vendors and the times when they will be available to residents, on its website.

Under the bill, the secretary would be authorized to establish and maintain a fund known as the “New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Operation Fund.” Monies received for the program would be deposited into this fund, and would be used to advertise the initiative; develop and distribute educational materials; offset the department’s costs in administering the initiative; and finance any necessary studies or other activity consistent with the purposes of the initiative.