Jeremy Goss is a problem-solver.
When the State of Texas decided to slash tuition grants for private schools, Goss lobbied against the measure, saving his university from a steep cut. After living in St. Louis for two years, the second-year medical student at Saint Louis University has decided to tackle another problem - food deserts.
"It's sometimes unfortunate when physicians suggest their patients to eat more fruits and vegetables given many families don't have access to healthy food as they live in food deserts," said Goss, a native of Houston. "It's a prescription that they just can't comply with."
Food deserts are areas with little or no access to grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable food. St. Louis has 15 such areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To bridge the gap between food affordability and accessibility, Goss is working on a start-up company - St. Louis MetroMarket, a mobile farmer's market that aims to improve easy access to fresh and healthy produce for nearly 50,000 individuals who live in food deserts of the St. Louis area. Not only does he plan to make healthy food more affordable and accessible, but also teach people the basics of nutrition and how to prepare meals.
"Food desert communities are long-standing and some families have gone without eating fruits and vegetables for years at a time," said Goss, who is also the chair for the Global Health Learning Community for the School of Medicine. "My goal is to bring fresh food at affordable prices to these communities and to empower families to make better decisions about what they eat."
He plans to approach the city to repurpose a metro bus as a food truck, load it with fresh produce, meat, poultry and staple goods to make a complete meal, drive through the food desserts at predetermined times and sell in the most-affected neighborhoods. Goss has chalked out a five-year plan, and aims to serve four food deserts by the end of first year. Read about his plan here.
Recently, Goss partnered with two alumni from Washington University in St. Louis, and they are now in the midst of raising money for start-up costs. Currently semi-finalists, they are competing for a $60,000 award from Dell Social Innovation Challenge, a competition that invites young social innovators to propose transformative ideas to solve the world's most pressing problems.
They have also been chosen by the Clinton Global Initiative University to attend the three-day conference, which will be held at Washington University on April 5.
"I still can't believe I get to meet President Clinton in a few days," Goss said. "This is an opportunity to get my idea in front of powerful social entrepreneurs, to be mentored and another chance at funding."
St. Louis has seen a few mobile market concepts in the previous years. Goss' idea stands out as he plans to serve the food deserts in the region. His start-up will adopt a sliding scale membership model - which involves different prices for high income and low income groups, based on their ability to pay.
To subsidize food items for the lower income group, St. Louis MetroMarket will partner with corporate giants in the city. They will sell grocery memberships to their employees, which will allow them to buy items at a lower price compared to a regular grocery store. Money from these sales and a surcharge paid by the company will in turn subsidize items to below market prices for members receiving food assistance benefits.
In addition to making food accessible and affordable, Goss also aims to inspire the customers to start cooking a complete nutritious meal.
"It's not enough to provide produce for people living in food deserts. We have to take the time to teach them about nutrition, food storage and safety, and meal preparation," he said.
To educate people, Goss will team up with Saint Louis University's Department of Nutrition and Dietetics to provide nutritional education to consumers and also demonstrate some easy, quick healthy recipes that customers can use. SLU nutrition students will sell the produce from SLU's community garden on Goss' truck and give lessons on how to plan their diet and pair it with exercises.
Mildred Matteldt-Beman, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the SLU department of nutrition and dietetics is mentoring Goss.
"By 2030, Missouri will be among the 10 most obese states in the union. It seems strange that a state so high in obesity has a high number of food deserts," said Mattfeldt-Beman. "A large number of people who don't have enough to eat are also obese. It has a great deal to do with what they are eating and what food they have access to."
She believes Goss will be able to directly address these issues with his mobile farmer's market.
"Jeremy wants to make food accessible to people who are in the low-income groups or who don't own a car to drive 15-20 miles to a grocery store," she said. "He will do so by providing them education about nutrition and how to prepare healthy food and give them access to that food."
Creating a mobile farmer's market is a step toward Goss' ultimate goal.
"I want to prove the demand for fresh produce in these areas so that grocery stores become interested in re-investing in these communities. That'll be a satisfying moment."