Kathy Bloomenson was tending to her yard when she saw the tent. She and her husband walked the short distance to the Lincoln Park Senior Center parking lot, where there were fruits, veggies and frozen goods for sale.

Community Action Duluth’s Mobile Market is a grocery store on wheels, traveling to neighborhoods that might not have a supermarket, or limited ability for home delivery.

You can get staples like peanut butter or milk and in-season produce like apples or potatoes by pre-ordering or buying in-person at Mobile Market stops in Morgan Park, Lincoln Park, the Midtown Manor apartments and Harbor Highland Community Center.

The van used by Community Action Duluth for the Mobile Market is open for business on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
The van used by Community Action Duluth for the Mobile Market is open for business on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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“It’s pretty nice,” she said. “It would’ve been even better had I not gone grocery shopping yesterday. Most everything here is what I got,” added Bloomenson, who did end up buying a block of cheese.

Bloomenson has lived in Lincoln Park for 18 years, and she said this is a “little positive in a kind of negative world right now.”

Reilly Partridge (left) hands produce to Sheila Tyree of Duluth while she shops at the Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Reilly Partridge (left) hands produce to Sheila Tyree of Duluth while she shops at the Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

While the idea for the Mobile Market has been in the works for years, the pandemic propelled it forward. “COVID hit, and we saw how much food insecurity, nationally, is an issue, and Duluth doesn’t escape those problems,” said Evan Flom, program manager for Community Action Duluth food justice program.

Community Action received state and government funds, and some from private, local foundations. Flom and a team started surveying community partners to find out which days, time frames and food items people could utilize most.

They added shelving and signage to what is now the Mobile Market van, which houses frozen and refrigerated goods during their stops.

Leo Ferguson of Duluth grabs a bag of groceries he bought at the Community Action Duluth Mobile Market on May 12, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Leo Ferguson of Duluth grabs a bag of groceries he bought at the Community Action Duluth Mobile Market on May 12, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The main suppliers are Aldi and Upper Lakes Foods. CAD plans to use goods from their Seeds of Success program and UMD’s Land Lab. They also hope to bring in more local food producers and entrepreneurs. It could be a significant aspect to the local food economy if those plans pan out, Flom said.

What fresh foods they have left over that won’t make it for their next stops, they donate to CHUM. “Zero food waste is the goal,” Flom said.

They plan on expanding the numbers of days they get out, increasing the number of vans and locations in a sustainable way.

On a recent visit in Lincoln Park, the bus was stocked with almond milk, celery, rice, flour and oats.

A sign lists prices for groceries at the Community Action Duluth Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
A sign lists prices for groceries at the Community Action Duluth Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Shopping baskets rested on one end, and customers can shop the crates filled with canned garbanzo beans, dried pasta and tuna fish. If you want eggs, someone will grab a carton for you from the back of the refrigerated van.

Months ago, Marie Houle saw the van before she knew what it was.

She posted a picture of the Mobile Market on Facebook with questions for more info. Three months later, Houle submitted an online grocery order.

She likened the Mobile Market to an ice cream truck that delivers groceries. She gets their cheese, salsa, eggs, produce and their soup kits when available.

A shopper since the market’s soft opening in March, Houle said she consistently saves $15-$20.

Bins of produce sit on display at the Mobile Market on May 12, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Bins of produce sit on display at the Mobile Market on May 12, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

“Today, I’m eating cabbage that I paid 75 cents for,” she said.

“I don’t know how they’re doing it or how they're making money. I know that it’s working for me,” she said.

And the Mobile Market is easy on more than her wallet.

Grocery store stops used to mean filling a backpack and a shoulder bag with food and walking blocks from the bus stop to her home. As a single parent, shopping for herself, her child and her mother can add up to a lot of weight, and it’s tricky to travel with the bags, alone, on public transportation.

But, the market parks closer to her than a bus stop.

“It’s now just located right there, a block or two away, and it saved me two hours on the bus. I carried less; I traveled less,” Houle said.

Reilly Partridge (left) and Karl Becker, both with Community Action Duluth, load groceries into the trunk of a car for Heidi Curnow of Duluth after she shopped at the Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Reilly Partridge (left) and Karl Becker, both with Community Action Duluth, load groceries into the trunk of a car for Heidi Curnow of Duluth after she shopped at the Mobile Market on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

If you go

What: Mobile Market

When: 4-6 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Good Fellowship Community Center, 1242 88th Ave. W.

More info: Visit communityactionduluth.org

Make your pre-orders: communityactionduluth.org/mobile-market. Discounts are available for SNAP participants and families with children younger than 18.