ST. LOUIS (AP) – A retrofitted Metro bus that will serve as a mobile farmers market in the spring made a test run this weekend on St. Louis’ north side.

The visit Saturday launched the official start of St. Louis MetroMarket, which aims to increase access to healthy produce in neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores.

A steady stream of residents walked through the bus Saturday morning, filling paper bags with apples, squash, beans and tomatoes, KWMU reported. Participants also sampled sweet potato chili and were provided with recipes to make their own.

MetroMarket plans to sell food at cost or slightly below costs to residents of neighborhoods without grocery stores, often known as food deserts. This weekend, though, the operation had no cash register.

“We decided that since we’ve got a limited amount of time in the year to show it to them we would make it worth their while,” MetroMarket co-founder Jeremy Goss said. He called the free fruits and vegetables “an early Christmas gift.”

Goss said the bus will return on a weekly basis in April.

St. Louis MetroMarket is sponsored by Saint Louis University Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, where Goss works as a research fellow in pediatric plastic surgery.

In future visits, hospital staff will pay market value for the goods, while pediatric patients with vouchers known as “food prescriptions” will be able to buy the food at cost.

The program will allow Cardinal Glennon’s outpatient clinic to start asking families whether they sometimes struggle to put food on the table.

“It’s hard to ask a question when you don’t have an answer,” said Josh Arthur, who is coordinating the voucher program. “So if somebody said `yes’ before we had our partnership with the MetroMarket, we would say I’m sorry to hear that. How might I be able to help you?”

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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