Chasing the Dream: Fresh Express

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In our new series dealing with poverty in Arizona, we’ll show you how fresh fruits and vegetables are being bussed in to residents in South Phoenix and Tempe, where there is not much access to healthy produce.

Ted Simons: Tonight we debut a new series chasing the dream, part of an ongoing media reporting issue that looks at the contemporary state of the American dream. Tonight we look at how to get healthy food to people in a food desert. In one neighborhood those items are too expensive or unavailable, until now. Producer Shana Fischer and photographer Juan Magana introduce us to the Fresh Express.

Shana Fischer: Every Thursday afternoon a different kind of bus pulls into the parking lot at Crockett elementary. The Fresh Express is a city bus that's been converted into a mobile produce stand. It's a welcome sight for the 600 students who live in the area and whose parents struggle on a daily basis to provide enough food. According to Balsz district superintendent Jeff Smith, 90% of students qualify for free lunch.

Jeff Smith: We live in a food desert which means there are not easy ways for people to get fresh produce in their area. They go to convenience stores or to fast food restaurants for their food, and that's just not healthy.

Shana Fischer: The bus is a brainchild of the discovery triangle development corporation. Its goal is to revitalize a 25 square mile area from downtown Phoenix to downtown Tempe. The bus kicked off operations in March and corporation president Don Keuth says the response is overwhelming.

Don Keuth: The reaction has been fantastic. The parents that have come, the staff and faculty of the school, the seniors that we serve, this is a God sends to them. It brings them stuff that they just don't get general access to.

Shana Fischer: Inside the refrigerated bus are dozens of bins filled with donated vegetables and fruit from Peddler Sons, a produce distributor. You can find everything from peppers to melons.

Don Keuth: We would say that we provide not only very fresh and healthy food but we do it at a very affordable price. So we have been able to price this in a way that it's all piecemeal. We don't have to weigh things. We will sell three avocados for a dollar. Three tomatoes for a dollar.

Shana Fischer: For many families it's not just economics that makes food shopping challenging. Many don't have transportation, so having the food come to them is crucial.

Marco Cazares: It's the best thing in life, you know. It's where you can go pick out your favorite foods and smell what you like and have the most part of fun picking out the foods you like.

Shana Fischer: Keuth says the bus is the key ingredient in the recipe to long term success for these kids.

Don Keuth: One of benefits is if we can help some kids eat healthier foods, have a healthier life-style that may translate into being a better student. By being a better student their outcome in life could change.

Ted Simons: Fresh Express stops at several other schools in the Balsz district along with a number of senior centers. It accepts snap's EBt Cards.

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Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll get an update on state budget talks in our weekly legislative update. And we'll hear about new discoveries on the lives of everyday Aztecs. That's on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

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