HUBweek Change Maker: Josh Trautwein

Josh Trautwein, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Fresh Truck

Josh Trautwein is co-founder and executive director of Fresh Truck, a mobile food market on a mission to support food access and community health in Boston. During HUBweek 2015, Fresh Truck co-hosted Innovating the Commonwealth’s Food Economy alongside collaborator, Commonwealth Kitchen. You can catch Josh & Fresh Truck at their first ever Food Rx* site, at the South End Health Center from 4–6PM or at any of their other weekly stops.

What was the inspiration behind Fresh Truck? What were your initial steps (or missteps) to take it from idea to reality? In 2011, I was managing a community health program at the Charlestown MGH Healthcare Center and a few other Boston-based health centers. At the same time, the only grocery store in Charlestown was shut down for a year-long renovation, so I was hearing from my families that they didn’t have anywhere close by to shop for healthy food — the next closest grocery store was a 90-minute round trip if you didn’t have a car. I started digging deeper into food access and realized that it was broadly affecting Boston neighborhoods, and cited as a key contributor to diet-related disease. As we millennials do, we launched a Kickstarter, bought a bus, transformed it into a mobile food market and hit the streets.

At its surface, Fresh Truck is embarking on the impactful endeavor of bringing fresh, healthy food to communities that don’t have access. Your vision, however, goes even deeper than that — closing the health disparities gap, helping people adopt healthier lifestyles. How do you stay focused on working towards such a lofty cause? Our model for social impact is structured as a feedback loop, so that our programs are constantly evolving as we gain new insights from our communities, analyze internal operations and monitor macro community health trends. Having this kind of feedback loop keeps us on track by guiding our assessment of whether or not our programs are working toward our vision, and provides us with some structure to think strategically about how we suspend, grow or adjust a program.

In a recent BostInno article, you were quoted as saying that it will likely take “a decade to turn around Bostonians’ health.” With such a long-term focus, how do you fundamentally think about your business differently? How do you rally partners around that kind of long-term thinking? We have to start off by defining what success is and what it is not: it is not simply appearing in a lot of communities and expanding our fleet, and it is not “moving” or selling a lot of food; the only thing we would consider as true impact is a sustained, macro shift level shift in health outcomes that can be attributed to our programming. I spoke with Blue Cross on this exact question and told them we wouldn’t have good news in terms of “impact” anytime soon, and that getting our families to change the way that they shop and eat is a long-term play. Blue Cross was clear that they were in for the long haul. Funders, sponsors and the community health sector as a whole are becoming more sophisticated in their deployment their resources, and they’re recognizing that true social impact often involves years or even generations to affect meaningful change.

How do you define success for Fresh Truck, and for yourself personally? How do you check in with yourself to make sure you’re on track? Success for Fresh Truck means that we’re getting food to the people that need it the most, and contributing to a sustained shift in health outcomes among our most marginalized Boston families. Fresh Truck has been my world for four years, so I definitely measure my personal success against how Fresh Truck is doing — and it hasn’t always been smooth. Our team is tight, we do a good job collectively checking in.

How have efforts shifted or evolved for Fresh Truck in the last 6 months? What’s the most exciting thing you’ve got in the works now? We’ve recognized that we need to foster health-centered community food culture in order for our food access programming to be successful, so we’ve developed “Pop-Up” programs more focused engaging communities around food and health. Pop-Up programs range from cooking demos to nutrition education workshops. I’m most excited about our new initiative to reach food insecure and homeless families through partnerships with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Rosie’s Place — it’s getting closer to the core of our mission and its been a seamless integration into our existing programs. I am also stoked about some SERIOUS renovations coming to the truck, more on that soon.

What’s the riskiest endeavor you’ve led or been a part of thus far? Our launch party, no question. Fresh Truck was overdue for a launch party to thank our supporters, and we also wanted to publicly broadcast all of our progress, showcase our new sponsors and unveil our new truck. The only problem was that my team and I had no idea what we were doing. But Coppersmith gifted us their space and it was too good to pass on, so we had to make it happen at the risk of failing in front of friends, family, supporters and our biggest sponsors. The party was rad thanks to Materials Methods, Harpoon and our dude Nate Solder.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received that you would pass on to other young entrepreneurs? Surround yourself with awesome mentors that are smart, but also care about you as a person.

A little rapid fire round:

· Favorite spot to visit in Boston: the Fens, to play soccer

· Proudest moment: friend asking me to officiate his wedding

· Superpower you wish you had: teleportation

*The Fresh Truck Food Rx program integrates food and healthcare by allowing healthcare agencies to underwrite the cost of healthy food for their patients.

The HUBweek Change-Maker series showcases the most creative and inventive minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.

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