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Food bus offers a fresh take on fruits, veggies

Think of it as a farmer’s market on wheels.

Long after the food truck craze took hold in Boston, a food bus began to roll down the city’s streets Thursday. The retrofitted school bus, the brainchild of a Boston start-up called Fresh Truck, is expected to visit Boston communities that don’t have nearby grocery stores, selling fruits and vegetables.

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Fresh Truck founders Josh Trautwein and Daniel Clarke, recent Northeastern University graduates, came up with the idea last year and work full time now to serve neighborhoods in need of more healthful food options. Fresh Truck is plotting a weekly schedule of routes, starting with Roxbury Crossing.

“There is a groundswell and a lot of opportunity around food access because there is still a lot of disparity,” Trautwein said. “Finding affordable and healthy food can be an issue in any city.”

There are only seats for the driver and a couple of passengers on the food bus. A counter and staircase have been installed. Storage space has been optimized to include as much produce as possible. And, yes, the bus underwent a deep clean first.

Baskets of bananas, lemons, and peppers in all shades were hooked onto the exterior of the painted bus Thursday, inviting passersby around City Hall to learn about Fresh Truck and walk away with a carrot or two. During the workday launch, Fresh Truck offered a pay-what-you-can promotion for their produce. Cashiers rang up donations on an iPad at the back of the bus.

“It’s a great idea, and if it drove up my street, I would flag them down,” said Nicole Condon, 35, a nurse from Jamaica Plain. “It’s obviously the same stuff you can get in a grocery store, but it’s fresh and nearby.”

‘We’re not offering our food at a lower price because it’s lower quality,’

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The Fresh Truck founders plan to spend the next couple of weeks working out new business details, including the complex process of acquiring city permits, and talking with potential financial backers.

Fresh Truck raised more than $32,000 from over 300 contributors to its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. It also received private donations to get started.

Starting Monday outside the New England Baptist Hospital in Roxbury, Fresh Truck will sell its produce for about 20 percent less than average grocery prices, Trautwein said.

Avoiding the traditional brick-and-mortar shop eliminates many operating costs for Fresh Truck. “We’re not offering our food at a lower price because it’s lower quality,” Trautwein said.

For now, Fresh Truck buys food from the New England Produce Center, one of the largest fruit and vegetable distribution centers in the country.

Grocery store chains are taking note of the need for more options as the population grows in Boston, but the crowded city poses challenges to them to find enough space.

“Obviously, the demographics are changing, so people feel there is a good customer base in the city,” said Mike Berger, senior editor of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a Duxbury-based trade publication.

The chance to avoid a long trip to reach a quality selection of produce could draw customers to Fresh Truck — and healthier eating habits — while reaching the nooks of the city typical grocery stores can’t squeeze into.

While supermarkets “set up shop in an area where it will be profitable to serve, we’re able to serve very small communities,” Trautwein said. “It’s almost like we’re driving a new market where there wasn’t one before.”

Christina Reinwald can be reached at christina.reinwald@globe.com.
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