It’s no secret: Baton Rouge has a food desert problem. For many locals in poorer areas of the city, accessing affordable fresh foods can feel nearly impossible. Most stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables are clustered in more affluent neighborhoods, making it harder for the elderly, disabled or people without transportation to access them.
Jasiri Basel wanted to provide a solution. Basel, the executive director of nonprofit The CEO Mind Foundation, launched The Fresh Cube in 2018 to get affordable, fresh produce to all areas of Baton Rouge.
The Fresh Cube is a refrigerated, self-contained mobile market that carries baskets of fresh produce to areas in need. It operates throughout the week as part of the Grow Baton Rouge markets and stops at places like Charles R. Kelly Community Center near Plank Road, Howell Community Park on Winbourne Avenue, Istrouma High School and local senior citizen centers and apartment complexes.
“There’s a serious mobility problem,” Basel says. “When you start thinking about seniors and driving, it’s hard if you’re in a wheelchair or have trouble getting to the store. I’ve been told by a lot of the seniors that there are stores out there that will charge seniors $5 a piece to pick them up—it gets expensive.”
With the Fresh Cube, locals can purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables at the Grow Baton Rouge market for as little as 50 cents each. The market sells a variety of produce, including apples, oranges, bananas, bell peppers, eggplants, squash, kale, lettuce, cabbage, onions, carrots and green beans.
Grow Baton Rouge is an offshoot organization of The CEO Mind Foundation, and it has established 10 community gardens throughout the city where neighborhood residents can participate in growing and cultivating vegetables for themselves. Some of the produce is also sold through the regular markets using the Fresh Cube.
Basel says the organization plans to add more community gardens and Fresh Cubes to reach more food deserts in the area. By the end of the year, their goal is to have at least 11 Fresh Cubes rolling around town, providing neighborhoods with healthier options than what they would find at convenience stores and fast food chains.
“When you look at where we are: 70805, 70806, 70802 or North Baton Rouge, it’s not only a food desert, it’s a food swamp,” Basel says. “Meaning that we’re not just missing healthy things, but there’s an overabundance of things that are going to cause you health problems. We have to combat that, so we’re educating and equipping communities to heal themselves.”
The Fresh Cube operates weekly Monday through Wednesday and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at rotating locations. Hours are subject to change. For updates on the Fresh Cube’s schedule, to check locations or to register to volunteer with Grow Baton Rouge, head to its Instagram or website.