Farm Express expands community involvement for students

ASU's CONHI students volunteer with the program during the spring semester

Four years ago, the Farm Express Bus transformed a Valley Metro bus into a traveling produce vendor.

The program finalized the route of its second bus in August, which is now running all over the Valley four days a week, and is planning on developing an official internship program. 

Discovery Triangle Development Corp. began this mobile store in a 25-mile radius, and for years, ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the College of Health Solutions were both involved with the bus’ service. 

The program's purpose is to address the heath issues caused by food accessibility problems in the Phoenix area’s lower income communities by providing high-quality, affordable and often local produce to residents. 

During the spring semester, students from CONHI volunteer to ride the bus into the communities and give residents free blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory measurement screenings. 

CONHI and the CHS students have been volunteering with Farm Express since its inception. While CONHI is still partnered with the program, CHS halted sending its students over to work with the program due to a lack of an established code or agreement.

“We didn’t have a formalized partnership,” Maureen McCoy, a lecturer from the CHS, said on why her students stopped volunteering with the bus. 

Nevertheless, McCoy spoke highly of the experience that her students gained while providing nutritional information to customers.

McCoy said the experience of working with communities that face serious obstacles in nutrition can help experts in training understand how income, location and physical state influence medical wellbeing and patient outcomes in the real world. 

“I think it was a great benefit, students still talk about it," McCoy said. "We dressed up as fruits and vegetables to get people’s attention.” 

Jenny Carrillo, operations manager for Discovery Triangle, said partnerships with ASU are infinitely beneficial for the Farm Express and for the sake of career experience for students.

Carrillo said that partnerships with ASU are essential to growing Farm Express because the expertise of a nutritionist or nurse is readily available from students, and the program is working on solidifying those relationships with the University.

“We’re getting ready to more formally launch an internship program ... for folks with a background in nutrition or education,” Carrillo said.

Farm Express is also launching an internship program for students to run the program's social media. 

Elyse Guidas, executive director for Farm Express, said the program’s expansion in recent years has enabled the Farm Express team to identify and accommodate under served communities beyond the traditional classification of a food desert. 

A food desert is defined as an area that lacks healthy food sources, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

However, certain populations in Arizona face other environmental challenges that make this definition a limited representation of the people in communities with limited access to fresh produce, Guidas said. 

Guidas said this August, Farm Express began focusing on getting healthy food into assisted living communities, adding that low-income senior citizens may face transportation and mobility challenges when it comes to accessing fresh produce. 

“At our core we provide access to food in communities that don’t otherwise have easy access to healthy food," she said. "Whether that be in low income senior communities where transportation and mobility might be a challenge.”


Reach the reporter at gmlieber@asu.edu or follow @G_Mira_ on Twitter. 

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