After years of planning, the Community Action Center in Pullman is ready to hit the road to bring fresh, free food to rural communities.

The center has converted a van into a mobile farm stand, a refrigerated vehicle that can haul fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and other food items people need in their town. It will take its first trip outside Pullman today and be available 10 a.m. to noon at 310 North F St. in Albion.

Carrie Chase, the Community Action Center’s community food manager, said two employees will set up a table of food in Albion near the van and visitors can select what they want.

Anybody can come and pick up food for free.

“We encourage donations, but they’re not mandatory,” Chase said. “We just want people to be fed.”

The farm stand is paid for with grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Innovia Foundation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and donations. The produce in the van today comes from the Washington State University Eggert Family Organic Farm and the Albion community garden. Chase said the Community Action Center is trying to encourage more local growers to sell their produce to the stand.

The Community Action Center in 2017 came up with this idea to address the food desert in rural communities across the Palouse. Chase said some residents have to drive long distances to the nearest grocery store to get their food.

“A lot of them go and load up for a month’s worth of groceries,” she said. “Well, they can’t really get fresh produce that way.”

This can lead to a rise in health problems, such as diabetes, she said.

Chase also pointed out that Washington’s eviction moratorium may end this month which means people will have even less money to spend on food if they have to pay rent.

Chase said the center hopes to eventually deploy the farm stand five days a week in both Whitman and Latah counties. Until then, it will send out the van on Saturdays in Pullman, Albion, Colton and Uniontown. More information about these dates can be found on the nonprofit’s Facebook page at facebook.com/CommunityActionCtr.

She said the farm stand will change its selection based on the season and will likely add meat to its menu of items.

Chase also hopes these visits can expand to include free health checks for residents and healthy cooking classes organized by the Community Action Center.

In addition to addressing food deserts, this project is part of a larger effort to eliminate the stigma that comes with getting food through charitable resources like the food stand and food banks, she said.

“We know there’s a need in the community and anybody who needs to be fed, we want to feed them,” Chase said.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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