Natural Fit

Any Street Grocery is a new, mobile solution to solving Denver’s food deserts.

By Robert Davis

  Any Street Grocery operates out of a re-painted school bus, allowing them to travel to different neighborhoods throughout the Denver metro area. (Credit: Any Street Grocery)

Any Street Grocery operates out of a re-painted school bus, allowing them to travel to different neighborhoods throughout the Denver metro area. (Credit: Any Street Grocery)

Access to healthy food is not only important on a personal level; easy access to fresh produce adds to the vibrancy of a city and the overall well-being of its residents. 

That’s why partners Steven Lockhart and Ashleigh Ruehrdanz co-founded Any Street Grocery, a mobile nonprofit that delivers healthy food to high-density, low-income neighborhoods in Denver that are at risk of becoming food deserts. 

“We believe that a good way to address the food scarcity problem in Denver is with a food market that can hit more than one neighborhood at a time,” Lockhart said.  

According to Lockhart, there are 14 neighborhoods around Denver considered at risk for becoming food deserts. Any Street Grocery plans to stop in two to four of these neighborhoods per week once they finalize a schedule for their retrofitted school-bus-turned-shopping-center.

According to statistics provided by Hunger Free Colorado, a nonprofit that connects families to local food sources, nearly one in 10 Coloradoans don’t have enough money to eat and one in six households report food hardship.

However, just delivering food to communities won’t solve the food scarcity problem on its own. Lockhart differentiates Any Street Grocery from other food delivery options because Any Street doesn’t require a minimum purchase amount or charge additional fees associated with their processes. 

Instead, Any Street Grocery’s model allows shoppers to pick out items from their mobile market bus rather than delivering preselected food. They also accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) – more commonly known as food stamps.

“Being able to accept SNAP payments means we are able to reach families whose gross monthly income is at or below 130 percent of the poverty line,” Ruehrdanz said. “That means they have the option of shopping with Any Street Grocery to purchase healthy and affordable food options for their family with their benefits.”

Any Street Grocery utilizes a local organic food distributor to supply them with healthy food to be sold at or under prices for comparable products sold by Amazon Fresh, Walmart, and King Soopers without sacrificing reliability for consumers.  

Ruehrdanz added that education is a large part of Any Street Grocery’s mission as well. That’s why she and Lockhart focus on teaching people in low-income neighborhoods about healthy foods and how to incorporate them into their diet and often chat with shoppers about different foods options during their stops. 

  Any Street Grocery allows shoppers to pick from a wide selection of fresh organic produce. The bus will accept payments for the food through SNAP and other food assistance programs. (Credit: Any Street Grocery).

Any Street Grocery allows shoppers to pick from a wide selection of fresh organic produce. The bus will accept payments for the food through SNAP and other food assistance programs. (Credit: Any Street Grocery).

These factors have made Any Street Grocery an attractive partner for Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment and the Sustainable Food Policy Council. Together, they are working to address the growing need for a sustainable, community-centric food policy as a part of  the Food Vision 2030 plan, Denver’s plan to reduce homes suffering from food insecurity by 55 percent in the next 12 years. 

 “We’re working through multiple strategies to build more inclusive, economically vibrant city, and Any Street Grocery is one way to fulfil that strategy,” said Mondi Mason, food policy administrator for the Division of Community and Behavioral Health. “Without community residential organizational partners we couldn’t build healthier communities.”

The Department has helped Any Street Grocery navigate the sisyphusian fight through permitting and regulations for food vendors, as well as offering technical advice. The goal of their partnership is to ensure that the next wave of mobile food vendors has a well-defined path toward becoming street legal.   

In a community-centric fashion, other community organizations such as Denver Urban Gardens, The Stapleton Foundation, The Fresh Loan Group, and community recreational centers work with Any Street Grocery to promote their services. These organizations help ensure local residents are aware of when the Any Street Grocery bus will be in town.

“We feel strongly that there is no one organization that can solve these issues on their own in a silo. That’s why we work hard to partner with organizations around town to tap into networks and leverage their strength as well,” Ruehrdanz said. ■