MONCTON – Frederic Laforge is reviving his company with a major pivot after closing the mobile farmers’ market in December 2017.
The Farmers’ Truck now designs and makes mobile market trucks for sale to food banks and food security organizations in North America. So far, it has received interest from California, Florida, Missouri, and New York, among others.
“Our vision for the company since the beginning was always fresh, healthy, accessible food in all communities so that’s our overarching goal as a social enterprise,” said Laforge in an interview. “It took a different form, so now we’re designing and manufacturing trucks, but we’re still empowering the same goal and I think that was very important for me.”
The idea came to Laforge when he sold the truck he used as a mobile farmers’ market to a food bank in Pennsylvania. He said the food bank liked the design of the truck. He also got good responses after speaking at Veggie Van’s Mobile Market Summit in Buffalo, New York, in March.
“I started thinking maybe we have something here, and maybe we should still try to help that [food security] community,” he said. “And something we were doing great is designing trucks. So I started validating concepts with some mobile market operators, got a 3D rendering of the new design, made brochures and started socializing that and got really good feedback.”
The truck Laforge designs with the help of a professor at Dalhousie University is especially beneficial for food providers because it has an eco-friendly cooling system installed.
The truck uses giant ice packs and can refrigerate approximately 1,000 lbs of food for a whole day. The ice packs can be re-frozen in a household chest freezer and re-used, so they don’t require gas or a generator. Truck owners would have two sets of these ice packs, so when one set is used in the truck, the other can be kept in the freezer.
“You basically rotate the sets like that. It’s pretty simple, the ice packs are really cheap, it’s easy to manage,” he said. “The whole goal is to make this cheaper but at the same time, we ended up with something that’s super eco-friendly.”
The chassis of the trucks come from Ford, but the rest of them will be manufactured by Dynamic Truck Bodies in Saint Jacques, northern New Brunswick. Laforge has hired a mechanical engineer to oversee the final product.
Laforge is hoping his trucks can help food banks and food security organizations reach so-called food deserts, which are usually impoverished areas.
In the U.S. alone, more than 20 million people live in these parts of the country where there’s a lack of options for fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets and healthy food providers.
The old Farmers’ Truck had faced challenges with funding and a concept that didn’t catch as well as he’d like. Laforge has also pulled out of Eat Fruits, a fruit-box delivery service he launched with Tomavo last April because there wasn’t much traction.
But with the new Farmers’ Truck, he has some financial backing. The Saint John Community Loan Fund, an organization that invests in social enterprises, about a month and a half ago, he said.
“I was looking for somebody like that the whole time. It seems New Brunswick is behind the game when it comes to social enterprise investment [aside from the Pond Deshpande Centre],” he said.
“It’s a decent-sized investment that’s going to give us a short but much-needed runway for me to focus on that because I was still working on this and working full time – burning candles at both ends as usual,” he added. “The investment really made the whole difference because there’s no way I could afford to do that again the second time. I’m trying to get back on our feet and try this again.”