Crystal Ellis Expands Food Access through Practicum Project

Community Engagement; Public Health; Students

Crystal Ellis is a Newman Civic Fellow and graduate student in the Brown School’s Master of Public Health program. She is currently working on a practicum project that she believes “encompasses what the public health field is about – advocacy for health equity by providing needed resources, in this case fresh produce, directly to a community that has expressed its need for that particular resource.” Her project focuses on increasing food access in under-served communities through a partnership with YMCA Emerson and St. Louis MetroMarket through the “Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities” initiative, known as “Fresh Fridays.” The St. Louis Metro Market is a non-profit mobile farmer’s market that travels around the St. Louis area on a donated city bus to provide low-income communities with direct access to fresh, local, and affordable food. By physically bringing the farmer’s market to these food deserts, they bridge gaps both financially and educationally.

This is the first season for the Fresh Fridays project, and demand has increased immensely over the course of the summer. “We’ve seen the excitement in kids’ faces when they get on the bus and touch and taste the food,” Ellis shared. “For many of the children and families, spending time on the bus brings them together with the common denominator of tasty food. I love their eagerness to enjoy different types of food and expand their taste palettes, even if just for a summer.”

To accommodate the high demand, Ellis and project partners are planning on increasing the number of stops for the next season to reach wider audiences in North County.

In addition to working with St. Louis MetroMarket, Crystal has helped coordinate Fresh Fridays events with community partners including the City of Dellwood, WEDO, and Christian Hospital. She is part of a diverse network of people “willing and committed to civic engagement in St. Louis and beyond to provide for community needs.” Ellis said that the experience has exceeded her expectations, and “food access is just the beginning” as she considers paths to broader social economic development in the region. “The more support we have throughout the region, the better chance we’ll have in moving the needle in the direction it needs to go to,” she summed.

To learn more about Fresh Fridays and opportunities for involvement, email Ellis at

This story was provided by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, for more information please visit their website.