Toms Creek Family Farm is launching a mobile food market outside Hyatt Park. (Photos by Lauren Larsen/Carolina News and Reporter)

Toms Creek Family Farm will have a mobile food truck to open up food accessibility in the Columbia area starting in March.

The Hopkins farm will fill its large trailer with fresh produce, proteins, dairy, baked goods and some meats. Local markets and farmers will be given the opportunity to work with the farm to provide affordable food as part of what’s being called Toms Creek Family Farm Mobile Food Market.

It’s a priority for the city to seek solutions to the community’s food insecurities, said Ayesha Driggers, city director of Office of Business Opportunities. 

“I believe this market will have a greater impact than we initially expected,” Driggers said. “And we are thrilled to be here. We look forward to a continued partnership.”

The mobile market will move between Hyatt Park, Greenview Park and Edgewood Library, targeting the 29203 and 29204 zip codes. The dates and times for the three locations will be advertised in those neighborhoods and shared on social media.

“We need it. It is so necessary,” said Shana Catoe, chair of Columbia Food Policy Committee, a citizen-focused advisory committee. “I live in this area, and I don’t have access to a grocery store that I can walk to. But look, some people that are right here, they can come right in their neighborhood. If they’re in the park, they can go shopping.”

The new market will accept cash, credit cards, SNAP benefits and the DSS Senior Voucher Program when offered. SNAP recipients will be able to receive additional produce as part of the Healthy Bucks program. 

“I’m also excited, because they take all forms of payment,” Councilwoman Tina Herbert said. “It is literally a grocery store on wheels.”

The Food Policy Committee chose the selected zip codes based on a lack of grocery stores there, especially due to closures over the past few years. 

Columbia City Council also recently passed a grocery store business license rebate program. The program guarantees a 100% rebate on business license fees for incoming grocery stores and a 50% rebate on current grocery stores’ business license fees, Herbert said.

The program’s intent is to promote grocery stores coming in and staying in the area.

Other initiatives will help with that, Mayor Daniel Rickenmann told the crowd gathered Feb. 22 at Hyatt Park for the market’s launch.

“We have to build back our community so that it attracts those grocery stores,” he said. “We don’t want to end up with an empty space that we have in some places.”

The funding for the mobile food market came from the American Rescue Plan, which is funding the federal government allocated for cities and counties throughout the country. One of the plan’s goals is to deliver nutrition assistance to food insecure Americans. 

“We’re very grateful for those funds and it providing us the opportunity to help with small businesses,” Herbert said.

Toms Creek also opened the Farmers Market Xchange grocery store on Lady Street in the Vista in September. That makes them a great partner to work with, Herbert said.

“It’s so much better when folks have a history in the industry, as opposed to maybe just trying out something, so I’m very, very optimistic, ” Herbert said.

Catoe thinks the mobile food market also will inspire the community to teach people how to cook fresh groceries, which are essential to good health.

Driggers said she knows Toms Creek co-owner Larry Schneeberger and his team are passionate about providing quality products to their customers. And they have additional ideas on how to further address health disparities in the community, she said. 

Schneeberger said his biggest hope is to expand the number of mobile food trucks and the number of communities served.

“We recognize that this will take a multi-prong approach, and our work is not done with the launch of this mobile market,” Driggers said. 

Fresh local produce inside the mobile food market

Varieties of cheese are for sale inside the mobile market.

The mobile market is a large trailer full of fresh produce, proteins, dairy, baked goods and some meats.

Red bell peppers in a bin