Interesting in 2010: the Veggie Mobile's Eric Krans

eric and the veggie mobile

The mayor of the Veggie Mobile, Eric "EJ" Krans.

One of the best things about working on AOA is that we get the chance to meet a lot of interesting people. We'll be highlighting a handful of them between now and the start of 2011.

We've been fans of Eric Krans since we first heard We Are Jeneric -- his musical collaboration with his wife, Jennifer. He and Jen also play in another one of our favorite local bands, Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned.

But Eric also heads up the Veggie Mobile (where's he's known as EJ), a rolling greenmarket that brings fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods in the Capital Region where people don't have easy to access to those foods. He gave a talk about the program at TEDxAlbany and it really impressed us -- he was so thoughtful and passionate. His ideas about the philosophy behind the project got us (and others, we're sure) thinking about how to apply some of the lessons of the Veggie Mobile experience to other projects in the Capital Region.

So, this is all to say that we're stuck by Eric's conscious, thoughtful approach to his work, his art and his life. So we asked him to take a little time to share some of that with the AOA crowd.

OK, first, is it EJ or Eric?

My family called me EJ until around the age of eleven when I had one of those moments that I think lots of kids have, where I decided that I'm an adult now and I should be called by my adult name. So I told my family, friends, and all my teachers to call me Eric. It caused my younger brother to stutter. He would go "E..e...e...e..Eric" every time he said my name.

I was known only as Eric from like 1991ish until I arrived at Capital District Community Gardens in 2006. My boss, Amy Klein, when she hired me, informed me that there was another Eric at the organization and that if I had a nickname that would be good. So now I have two names and sometimes I feel schizophrenic.

Tell us a little about what happens when the Veggie Mobile drives into a neighborhood.

We built the Veggie Mobile to bridge a glaring gap in our regional food system; that of urban food deserts. And we decided while building it that the truck should be more than just a mobile market. We decided that it should be colorfully, musically and socially vibrant.

Over the past four years we've found from our customers that our decision to make it a vibrant market may have turned out to be the most powerful element of our project.

Imagine you're living in a high rise apartment complex like South Mall Towers on South Pearl St. here in Albany. You know the Veggie Mobile should arrive at 11 am. So you grab your coat and your bag and you make a little list of things you need and you take the elevator down to the courtyard. The Veggie Mobile is not there, yet. It's running a little late. All of sudden you hear music bouncing off the building and as the truck pulls into the courtyard it's clear that the music is James Brown, "Talking Loud Saying Nothing". The enthusiastic team sets up the market and there you are with some of your neighbors shopping on the back of a truck in a swirl of excitement.

With the truck gone, you're back in your apartment and all you have to show for the excitement is the fruits and vegetables you bought. That's how our little project adds value to healthy eating. Eating healthy doesn't have to be bland or boring or feel forced.

veggie mobile side

So, yes, this job is about more than delivering vegetables -- it's about getting to know local farmers who provide us with quality produce, it's about making connections with community members, it's about educating people about healthy eating and about being enthusiastic about food and life in general. I think of the Veggie Mobile team as a group of educator/peddlers.

Your boss has joked about you being the mayor of the Veggie Mobile. You seem so perfect for this job. Did you ever see yourself as the guy who drives the vegetable truck?

My boss called me the mayor of the Veggie Mobile after our first-ever stop, which was at Kennedy Towers in Troy. As soon as we arrived I was shaking hands and taking names. That's an active part of what we do now. Everyone on our team plays mayor. I imagine that kind of service used to be standard, but because the big box grocery store experience is so impersonal people have something to contrast us with.

I never saw myself as the guy who drives the vegetable truck because I think if I were to look at it that way I would have missed an incredible opportunity to really improve the way our community relates with the project. When we're out on the truck I make sure that I and everyone on our team is performing, educating, making friends, talking about food, providing a good service, and having fun. It's a confluence of all my interests and it's very fulfilling.

What's up with your music these days?

My wife Jennifer and I are working on a new We are Jeneric album right now, to be released in spring or summer 2011.

We had an interesting and somewhat rough year musically. We had to step aside as regular members of Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned after spending nearly every waking minute for almost six months doing all things Dunbar. After awhile we felt that we needed to get out of the way. The rest of the band needed to continue putting in the time and making the sacrifices to see their dreams come true, whereas Jennifer and I needed the space to follow our varied interests, make our music, and start thinking about the things that people in their early thirties start to find themselves thinking about.


How do you find the balance between the music world and, well, the rest of the world ?

The balance was very difficult for a while. I think we may have spent too much time doing music at the end of last year and early this year. I read a quote once that said art without commerce is a hobby. We took our hobby and we were really trying to make it work economically and in doing so we crowded out the other interests that informed our art.

Jennifer and I make music as though it's a journal of our lives. The music tends to portray the general mood and the songs are about what we're interested in or the experiences that we're going through at that particular time. At the beginning of this year all we could write were dark and energetic songs about Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned. Now we're writing about getting through tough times, and the love of friends and family. All the while Jen has been blogging about her interests on her blog.

Happiness, having a good life, seems to be important to you. What does that mean to you?

The philosophy I subscribe to is self-reliance, which brought me into a year-long relationship with the word "how."

I'm obsessing over how things happen and how to make things happen. I think when someone does this in a fair manner they can't avoid seeing their faults -- which are scary at first, and then kind of funny. It's funny to think that most of my frustrations are just me getting in my own way. It's funny to think about how I've managed to make it this far with my bad habits, my youthful naiveté, and my secret little musical selfishness. With these out of the way it becomes a lot easier make things happen and let things evolve.

What's next for you?

2011 should be fun. Like I said before, Jen and I are working on a new album which has been stewing for quite some time. After taking part in the RPM Challenge for three years in a row it felt strange not to come out with an album in 2010. We're looking forward to having a lot of new music out in the ethers.

Our home is a 19th century haunted farmhouse which has been in Jen's family since 1904 and like most old houses it always demands our attention. Also, our gardens keep expanding. We have plans to transplant our hops to a better location, there are a couple additional fruit trees we will plant this year in our orchard, and some wood working projects I'd like to tackle. I hope to refurbish the seed closet Jen uses for collecting and storing the seeds she sells (was that another plug?), as well as the seeds she keeps for our own organic vegetable and flower gardens. I also plan to build a cider press before the apples start to drop next fall.

The Community Gardens keeps coming up with exciting new projects and this year will be no different. Oh, and I can't wait for B3nson's next RestFest.

Lastly, I'd like to add that I really appreciate All Over Albany! You're a great website full of clues to what's happening in our region and you deserve heaps of respect and thanks for supporting all things local. You're a voice for good and you're helping to bring our community together! Thanks, All Over Albany.


Three cheers for one of the coolest dudes in the Cap Region!

Eric's always an inspiration! thanks for this piece.

E-e-e-e-e-Eric is the mayor of funtown! Can't wait to hear the new tunes and see the TED lecture.

The Veggie Mobile is a program of (the great) Capital District Community Gardens organization.
John (community gardener for 24 years)

Very cool Eric!!

Capital District Community Gardens is so blessed to have EJ - with his charm, energy and warm personality - spearheading one of our most important programs. We love you EJ!!!

EJ is a great son with a fabulous wife. They make music together in more ways than one. Our grandchildren (only 19) are always in high expectation when they know Eric is coming in for a family gathering (only 40 of us). It is kind of like the expectation of the arrival of the Veggie Mobile or the release of a new album. Eric is our family clown and our deep thinker at the same time. If you ever get a chance, sit and chat with him. You will be amazed at how insightful he is on most any topic. Keep up the great work son.

Eric is pretty cool, even though he's only my brother. Keep up the good work. We love you and Jen.
Your favorite brother,

One of the coolest cats I have the pleasure of knowing. There are mornings when I'm riding the NYC subways to work and I actually wish that I was Eric Krans! Keep on being amazing Eric. Sounds to me like the Capital District needs you to be!!!
Love ya guy-

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