‘Ripe for Revival’

Published 4:53 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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AHOSKIE – With its bright, colorful images of people and food emblazoned across the sides, the “Ripe for Revival” bus is hard to miss.

Anyone who drove down Academy Street in Ahoskie around lunchtime on Wednesday, Aug. 16 might have caught a glimpse of the bus in the State Farm Insurance parking lot. Ripe Revival, which is a North Carolina-based food box delivery company, operates the bus as a part of their nonprofit division with a goal to bring greater food access to people at affordable prices.

They do that through the “Ripe for Revival” mobile market hosted inside the bus itself.

A crate of apples awaits shoppers inside the mobile market. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Wendy Ruffin-Barnes and her staff at the Ahoskie branch of State Farm hosted and volunteered at Wednesday’s market event.

“We’ve got a pretty good turnout this morning,” Ruffin-Barnes told the News Herald as she took a momentary break from handing out food samples and directing cars in and out of the parking lot.

She said they wanted to host the mobile market as a way to give back to the community.

“Even though we have a lot of land here in this area, we still have people who go without food,” she said, noting that travel and cost are often barriers to food access.

The process of shopping at the Ripe for Revival market was simple. People step onto the bus, grab a bag, and then fill it up with the fresh produce and other food on display inside. At the check-out before exiting the bus, Jonathan Tyndall rings up the food and gives them a suggested total.

But the market operates on a “pay-what-you-can” model, so customers pay what they’re able to afford.

“The whole pay-what-you-can model allows people to shop with dignity, so it’s not a handout,” explained Tyndall, who works as a Community Cultivation Coordinator with Ripe Revival.

Jonathan Tyndall checks out a customer after she selected items. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

As shoppers made their way to the check-out, Tyndall chatted with them and answered their questions about the organization. He said he enjoys getting the chance to interact with the people who pass through.

The bus was stocked with a variety of fresh produce, including apples, tomatoes, kale, collards, squash, mini watermelons, and much more. They also had a selection of meat and eggs in a refrigerated section.

They usually also have a freezer section as well, but Tyndall explained that the generators to power the bus were stolen earlier in the week. But the volunteers at State Farm stepped up to provide a generator to power the refrigerator unit during Wednesday’s event.

Much of the food at the market came from local farmers in North Carolina.

Tyndall explained that the company began as a food box delivery service just before the pandemic began, and later they started the nonprofit mobile market as a way to continue to support local farmers as the pandemic continued. Farmers are able to get more of their crops to consumers while also helping reduce the number of people who are food insecure.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap between farm excess and food access,” he said.

The focus is also on promoting healthy eating. So shoppers at the market were also treated to free samples of food – sweet potato muffins and a pasta salad that included fresh kale – and could pick up a recipe card too. The samples serve as suggestions for different ways to prepare the fresh foods.

The organization has four “Ripe for Revival” buses that have traveled across eastern NC locations, ranging from Roanoke Rapids, Washington, Bethel, and more. Tyndall said they consistently service 10 counties right now.

The Ahoskie market was a one-time event, but he said their goal would be to return regularly in the future.

More information about the organization can be found at riperevival.com.

In addition to the mobile market, representatives from ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital were also onsite Wednesday to provide free health screenings.

Sonya Williams, who serves as the hospital’s Director of Community Equity and Partnership, thanked Ruffin-Barnes for the opportunity to join in on the event, especially since they share a similar goal with the mobile market when it comes to access.

“We’re trying to make sure that our community has what they need in the area. We bring it to them, so they’re not always having to come to us,” Williams explained.

For many people on Wednesday, the insurance agency at the corner of Main and Academy Streets offered easy access to improving health and wellness….in more ways than one.

“Ripe for Revival” mobile market shopper Judy Boone (front row, second from right) is pictured with State Farm Insurance employees, front row from left, Dawn Mizelle, Wendy Ruffin-Barnes, and Lisa Lewis-Joell; and, back row from left, Mike Wolfe, Kerstin Powell, Ebony Lynch, and Marvin Simmons. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor