Dudley food truck rolls out
Local duo focuses on affordability, sustainability
Every day around noon at business districts throughout the city, the perennial question arises: “What will I eat for lunch?”
Dudley Square has a new answer to that all-important question with the arrival of the Fresh Food Generation food truck, which will roll into town three times a week. The truck, the brainchild of Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw, sells fresh food with an eye toward affordability and food sustainability.
Together, the local duo — Campbell is from Roxbury, Renshaw from Somerville — is determined to increase healthy food options for their neighbors while tapping into local food sources.
Journey of an idea
Campbell says she first got the idea for the food truck three years ago after graduating from MIT with a degree in Urban Planning
“I had just finished grad school and come back to Roxbury and I found I was traveling to other communities to get healthy food,” she says.
Although her background was in city planning, she felt passionate enough about the idea that she decided to pursue it. She contacted Renshaw, whom she knew from when she was a staffer and he was a teen leader at the Food Project, an urban farming initiative that has worked for the past 25 years to develop youth leadership while increasing the supply of locally-grown vegetables in low-income neighborhoods.
The two developed the idea and soon took part in a six-month business accelerator program run by the Future Boston Alliance. The program provided them with training, tailored guidance, and connection to a network of mentors and potential partners. At the end of the six months, they won the program’s pitch competition, which came with a $5,000 prize funded by the Boston Impact Initiative. They used the money to underwrite their marketing and host an online Kickstarter fundraiser, which in turn brought them $54,000 to launch their business.
The launch was an intense process that involved purchasing a truck, conducting various pilots of their recipes, researching suppliers and market prices, and learning how to use industrial cooking equipment.
While neither one of them has formal culinary training, they bring their personal experience to the table. Campbell says she is particularly influenced by her parents’ Caribbean cooking, and her personal knowledge of the kinds of food that people in Roxbury and neighboring areas want to buy.
Renshaw loves to cook and first landed in the food truck business as a manager for Bon Me, the Vietnamese restaurant that runs a number of food trucks across Boston and Cambridge. They note that the Bon Me owners were gracious enough to let them develop their skills with the truck’s industrial equipment as they prepared to enter the food truck game.
Affordability and sustainability
Campbell says they are committed to keeping prices affordable, or at a level “that people are used to paying in Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester.” They are able to do so in part by supplementing their food truck earnings with the catering services they provide for a number of downtown businesses.
In addition, they plan on partnering with local suppliers who emphasize food sustainability. Renshaw, who studied agriculture at the University of Vermont, spends a lot of time building relationships with local farmer networks. A partnership with a network called Farm Fresh Rhode Island, for instance, allows them to compare prices from various farms the way one might compare flight prices on Expedia.
The networking also has a human aspect to it.
“Farmers want to feed people, that’s why they grow food,” Renshaw says, adding that he studied agriculture because of a similar personal commitment.
And connections with growers helps the duo find a use for products that otherwise would go to waste. If the farmers have too much of something, or a perfectly good product is not aesthetically pleasing enough for a supermarket — say, a vegetable is oddly shaped — Renshaw and Campbell can purchase it at reduced cost and work it into their menu.
They also source from Boston-area farms like their “alma mater,” the Food Project, as well as Allendale farm in Brookline and Dorchester-based City Growers, which trains urban farmers to grow produce in vacant Boston lots. Initiatives like the Food Project and City Growers are part of a larger wave of urban farming projects nationwide that aim to increase access to locally grown, healthy food in neighborhoods where such offerings can be scarce or too expensive.
While there are some skeptics who question whether urban farming can truly meet city dwellers’ food needs on a large scale, its proponents see such initiatives as an innovative way to begin fixing a broken food system.
Campbell and Renshaw are looking to build even more partnerships with local food sources. They currently are planning with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative to develop a network for purchasing food from local growers who want to grow produce on their private property. Renshaw says the process should be easier now due to the 2013 passage of Article 89, a change to the city’s zoning code that lay out the guidelines for people who want to grow food for commercial sale in their homes — a first in the city’s history.
The cooks are dedicated to keeping their food homemade as a commitment to health.
“When we say ‘healthy,’ we mean real food — an alternative to fast food and over-processed corner store food,” Campbell says.
To that end, they make all of their sauces — chipotle, jerk, and more — from scratch, thereby cutting out the high fructose corn syrup that is found in many store-bought sauces.
Campbell says that they will also make some small changes to traditional recipes — for instance, baking their empanadas instead of frying them — while striving to keep the food choices “culturally relevant” to local consumers. For instance, when the Banner dropped by last Friday, the offerings were jerk chicken, chipotle chicken or bean stew with a choice of herbed potatoes, greens or cole slaw.