Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 877–893 | Cite as

An oasis in the desert? The benefits and constraints of mobile markets operating in Syracuse, New York food deserts

  • Jonnell A. Robinson
  • Evan Weissman
  • Susan Adair
  • Matthew Potteiger
  • Joaquin Villanueva


In this paper we critically examine mobile markets as an emerging approach to serving communities with limited healthy food options. Mobile markets are essentially farm stands on wheels, bringing fresh fruits, vegetables and other food staples into neighborhoods, especially those lacking traditional, full service grocery stores, or where a significant proportion of the population lacks transportation to grocery stores. We first trace the emergence of contemporary mobile markets, including a brief summary about how and where they operate, what they aim to achieve, who they serve, and the general constraints on their operations. We then report case study findings that examine the operational benefits and challenges of two mobile markets operating in Syracuse, New York. Our research suggests that although Syracuse’s mobile markets play a positive role in alleviating geographic, economic and social barriers to fresh food access experienced by elderly, immobile and low income residents living in Syracuse’s urban neighborhoods, the impacts of the mobile markets are dampened by both operational constraints and larger political and economic forces.


Food access Food deserts Food justice Farmers’ markets Mobile markets 



Community Development Corporation


Community Development Corporation Mobile Market


Community supported agriculture


Electronic benefits transfer


Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program


Regional Farmers’ Market


Regional Farmers’ Market Mobile Market


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program


ERS United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service


Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program



We are grateful for the time and insights of mobile market staff, customers and associates in helping to advance this research. We appreciate the feedback of our anonymous reviewers and the research assistance of Sean Keefe, Jeremy French-Lawyer, and Lucas Barros-Correia. Our research was funded by the Sustainable Enterprise Partnership, a joint initiative of Syracuse University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the Syracuse Center of Excellence.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of Public Health, Food Studies and NutritionSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  3. 3.Grounded DirectionSyracuseUSA
  4. 4.Department of Landscape ArchitectureState University of New York, College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyGustavus Adolphus CollegeSaint PeterUSA

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