Your Veggie Mobile questions answered

veggie mobile side

Veging at St. Sophia.

By Jessica Pasko

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...

(And by the way, when he's not selling veggies, you can catch EJ playing around town with Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned and We are Jeneric.)

veggie mobile interior

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.

veggie mobile pricesWho buys from you?

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.

Comments

I am so happy we have the Veggie Mobile here in the Capital Region. I am a registered dietitian here in Albany and I'm always telling my patients (most are low income) about the Veggie Mobile so they can get some lower priced, fresh fruits and veggies!

Not enough good things can be said about this project. The Veggie Mobile is meeting a very real and substantial need that has been overlooked so flippantly for years. My admiration to EJ and comrades. Hopefully with Michelle Obama and her nutrition campaign more projects like this one can find significant federal funding.

In addition to the Veggie Mobile, Capital District Community Gardens runs a "Squash Hunger" program where area gardeners donate surplus garden produce that gets distributed to food pantries. As one of the CDCG community gardeners, I just finished planting my plot and dedicated a few extra plants to donate vegies later in the season. Local gardeners who find themselves inundated with zucchini, cukes, and tomatoes can drop them off at designated drop-off points (inc. the Honest Weight Food Coop). "Plant a Row for the Needy" is also a national campaign with the same purpose to supply food pantries with fresh vegetables.

Incidentally, there are other ways to share your bounty. One of my co-workers takes armfuls of rhubarb stalks to a nearby senior housing complex and the older residents there jump on it as a nostalgic reminder of their childhood.

A lot of the time I have nothing to add, plus I've been trying to post less because I usually end up embarrassing myself by saying something astronomically stupid and I don't like to have that sort of thing documented on the internet, but here's the thing. I like this article more than other articles, and I want to let the writer & editors know that it's one of the better stories. But this isn't like youtube where I can rate it 5 stars or click "thumbs up" next to other comments. And that pretty much means I'm screwed in this situation. Absolutely screwed. So, thanks for nothing I guess.

Great post, Jess. Just the answers I was looking for.

i have a volunteer squash in my garden that is 9 inches long,and half its size is a neck,light green with dark green stripes with raised bumps or knobs on them and there are many fruit on the plant,is this a cross polluninated volunteer, the only squash i ever raised in my garden are butternut,acorn,zukinni ,helppppppp.fred

The last page of the recipe insert/advertisement in last Sunday's TU had a nice feature about the Veggie Mobile. It was a little ironic since "Dash" seems to be filed with ways to use specific brands of highly processed foods, but still, yay for Veggie Mobile!

Wow, 45% retail markup!
No wonder veggies are so expensive.

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