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UNT Dallas students convert DART bus into produce market for southern Dallas

UNT students convert DART bus into produce market for southern Dallas

Highland Park San Antonio farmers market produce
Produce is in short supply in certain parts of Dallas. Highland Park Neighborhood Association/Facebook

Hoping to fill a food desert of sorts in southern Dallas, students from UNT Dallas are crafting a mobile food market from which they can sell fresh produce.

The fun part: It'll be in a low-emission bus, provided by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) that's been converted into a mobile food market. The project is funded by a $268,000 grant from Toyota.

According to a release, UNT Dallas, Toyota, and DART launched this initiative on the UNT campus in an event that included a free farmers market for community members in nearby neighborhoods.

The market is an effort to counteract the shortage of grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables in certain parts of southern Dallas.

The bus will sell fresh fruits and vegetables sourced from local community gardens. In addition to funding the retrofit of the bus and providing scholarships for students, Toyota is also sharing its knowledge and expertise with students to help guide the effort.

The project came about via UNT Dallas biology professor Kelly Varga, whose work in a southern Dallas neighborhood gained the attention of Toyota as it seeks to advance its own mobility strategy.

"If we can help connect the community to fresh produce and healthy food, we can help fuel a young person’s development, learning and progress toward adult success,” says Varga in a statement. "The project nurtures social mobility through wholesome meaningful education and outreach."

Dallas County is 20.6 percent food insecure, well above the national average of 14.9 percent. Food insecurity in children is a staggering 26.6 percent in Dallas County, above the national average of 22.4 percent.

"By bringing fresh, locally sourced produce directly into neighborhoods in southern Dallas, we can also spur business growth, support local gardens and uplift the community," said Al Smith, a Toyota VP. "Through projects like this we can inspire new solutions and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students."

DART is providing a compressed natural gas bus that will be converted to a mobile farmer's market; the bus is expected to launch in spring 2019.

In addition to selling fresh produce, the program will also provide education on healthy living, professional development workshops among other opportunities. Students will also get hands-on learning experience.

UNT Dallas Urban SERCH Institute and School of Business students will collaborate with the community and local farms to develop and launch the program, which is supported through scholarships from Toyota and UNT Dallas.

Students will conduct a community assessment, create a strategy to source food, plan delivery routes that minimize emissions, and develop a business plan. Students from Cedar Valley Community College’s Automotive Program will also participate in the initiative, helping to renovate and maintain the bus.

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