A new kind of food truck is making its rounds in Camden.
The Fresh Mobile Market, a community garden on wheels, made its first stop Wednesday at Mickle Tower, an affordable-housing high-rise for senior citizens near the waterfront.
The refrigerated trailer, operated by the Camden City Garden Club, carries fresh seasonal produce and will drive to scheduled locations during the next year, including churches and community centers.
Many residents in high-rise public housing don't have ready access to fruits and vegetables, said Mayor Dana L. Redd.
Much of the city of 77,000 people lacks supermarkets and according to federal standards is considered a "food desert."
"This would be a blessing if it's reasonable," said Wilhelmenia Dyer, a Mickle Tower resident, as she checked out the produce stand on wheels outside her building.
She thought some of the vegetables were too expensive, such as $3.50 for a bunch of asparagus. But she loved the $1.50-a-dozen eggs.
"That's beautiful," Dyer, 67, said.
Like many in her building, Dyer has been relying mostly on her children to drive her to supermarkets in the suburbs.
Customers will be able to use food stamps to purchase items from the mobile market. City and state officials are working to get other food subsidy programs approved for the market.
Some of the produce comes from Camden's more than 100 community gardens. Most will be state-grown, garden club executive director Mike Devlin said.
The partnership of the state, city, regional farms, and the club stems from the New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Pilot Program, cosponsored in the Legislature by Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson (D., Camden). The program, the first in the state, will be reviewed in a year.
Unsold food will be given to soup kitchens in the city or used as compost, Devlin said.
At Wednesday's debut, the mobile-market crew pulled out crates of strawberries from the refrigerated trailer and set up a stand loaded with asparagus, tomatoes, onions, and carrots.
"I love to cook, and grilling season is coming up," said Redd, who wore sneakers and casual clothing. She had come from Farnham Park, where she launched the fourth annual Camden Clean Campaign, a weeks-long volunteer effort to beautify neighborhoods.
The mobile market trailer was purchased by the club with a $63,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.
The future of the club's Children's Garden is uncertain. In January, the state Treasury Department sent a letter to Devlin telling him to remove the garden's property from its location next to Adventure Aquarium.
The state said that the garden club could rent a few offices and one greenhouse but most of the four-acre plot should be transferred to the aquarium. The notice came after three years of negotiations toward getting the garden to move.
The sides disagree on the validity of a deed the state has shown as proof of ownership of the land where the garden is located.
In March, the state said it was suspending its eviction notice to review new documents. This week, a Treasury spokesman said nothing had changed.
"Hopefully we can get more discussion going and get a plan," Devlin said. "We would like to partner with the aquarium."