A few weeks ago, AOA told you that the Veggie Mobile was a finalist in an international competition. And based on the comment thread that ensued, it seemed like a lot of you were pretty curious about the whole thing.
So I caught up with Veggie Mobile Coordinator EJ Krans to get the whole scoop...
What's a typical day on the veggie mobile like?
The short answer is: dizzying. We start by pulling out the produce we already have in stock. There are usually two or three full-time staff helping to get the truck loaded and out on the road. We bring stored produce onto the truck and organize it into our display shelves while one of our team makes a list, orders produce and drives our Community Gardens van down to the Menands market to pick up new stock. We then determine the price per pound of the produce we just bought and update the price boards on the truck. Load up takes about two hours total. Then we're on the road.
We have three or four stops a day, Tuesday through Saturday, and they're all over the Capital Region so we spend a lot of time in the cab of the truck. That's where the Veggie Mobile team holds its meetings and where we listen to plenty of music too. At each stop the two Veggie Mobile staffers on duty will maneuver our 175 pound ramp into place, set up our cash register and scale, pull out our wooden step, our shopping baskets and our open sign
Also the set up and take down can be particularly fun when we have eager customers waiting for us to open up and we're often still serving a customer when we really ought to be on the road driving to our next stop.
Our customers run the spectrum. We have children like Kyle from Griswold Heights, who has been coming to the Veggie Mobile with his mother for two years now, or Tatianna from Martin Luther King Apartments, who just recently became a regular visitor and always asks us first thing if we remember her name. We also serve a lot of senior centers where most of our customers are regular weekly friends. So we serve all ages, races and creeds, we have young families, seniors, black, white, Latino, and Asian. Most of our customers are low income but we don't discriminate. We just make it more likely that our customers will be low-income or fixed income seniors by putting our market stops in those communities.
Which are the most popular stops? Where do you tend to see the most visitors to the veggie mobile? Do you seem to have a lot of regulars?
Our most popular stops are South Mall Towers in downtown Albany on South Pearl on Friday mornings from 11-12:30, and Kennedy Towers in Troy on Thursdays from 2-3:00ish. Those are consistently very busy, the truck is regularly crowded and our stock is usually decimated after those particular stops but they are not always the busiest, some weeks our Yates Village or Ten Eyck Apartments stops in Schenectady are incredibly busy, and Ida Yarbrough Apartments on North Pearl in Albany, a new stop since April 2009, is becoming busier and busier each week.
One thing many people were concerned about is whether or not the Veggie Mobile is open to everyone. I think there's some worry that if people who aren't as low-income are utilizing the Veggie Mobile, it will take away from those who really need it. Has this ever been a problem?
As I said before, we don't discriminate. Most of our customers are low-income simply because we target those communities but we have never turned anyone away. Having said that, however, if you can afford to buy produce at the grocery store, have a car, and some discretionary income, then you're not our target population. We target low income people who live far from grocery stores, who don't have easy transport to grocery stores, or who might not be able to afford eating healthy. Or to put it another way: we target people whose access to healthy eating is blocked by price or mobility obstacles. It is for these people that we designed a market that moves so it can come into their neighborhood and sell them high-quality low-cost produce.
We can sell our produce at a lower price than supermarkets because we don't need to make a profit on the produce we sell. Capital District Community Gardens is a not-for-profit organization and has secured private and government grants in order to run the Veggie Mobile project, to pay salaries and cover costs.
The benefits of pricing the produce this way are more than we originally anticipated. Not only do people buy more produce when it is cheaper they are also open to trying things they may never have had the opportunity to try before, or to try things they didn't really like the first time. Most importantly they are excited to eat those fruits and vegetables they didn't see as absolutely necessary before when their money was stretched thin by the high prices of staples.
By comparing prices to local grocery stores we found that selling at wholesale price saves our customers approximately 45% on their produce bill [editors: click on the price board photo to see today's prices]. We then encourage our customers to spend as much as they would have before; we nudge them to buy more healthy foods than they could have or would have before. And we are finding that our customers are in fact buying more and they are telling us that they are happier for it. And healthier too.
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.