Two Western New York communities with limited access to local, affordable, healthy foods will get visits once a week through September from a new “Veggie Van” hawking seasonal produce at market prices.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County will roll the farmers’ market on wheels into Lackawanna on Thursdays and Niagara Falls on Fridays.
“The two areas were selected because they are food deserts,” said Extension Community Coordinator Briana Dorrenbacher. “We’re only doing one location per city because this is our pilot launch.”
The van is modeled after similar projects in Toronto and the MAP Mobile Market in Buffalo. It was purchased with a Creating Healthy Schools and Communities grant in partnership with East Smart New York, which will offer educational materials and cooking demonstrations as part of the mobile market effort.
Veggie Van will park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday through September in a vacant lot at the former Friendship House, 264 Ridge Road in Lackawanna, and the same times each Friday at St. John AME Church, 917 Garden Ave., Niagara Falls.
Lackawanna does not have a farmers’ market. The Falls has two, though neither are near the North End, where the Veggie Van first arrived last week. It will pay its first visit to Lackawanna next week.
“We’ll only have produce that’s local and in season,” Dorrenbacher said. “Every week, what we sell is going to change. Last week in Niagara Falls, we sold out of tomatoes. There’s going to be a lot of apples and squash in coming weeks. Probably for the launch in Lackawanna, we’ll also have corn, melons and potatoes.
“We’re selling fruits and vegetables this season for the same prices we bought them for. A lot of people gave us feedback in the Falls that the prices were very low, very pleasing.”
The van staff will accept cash and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT)cards for payment. Extension officials next growing season hope to start accepting SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks and similar discount options as the program gains its footing. They’d also like to expand the number of sites.
“We’ve already heard a lot of interest from sites in Niagara Falls telling us they’d like us to come next year,” Dorrenbacher said. “We also hope to do an extended season, maybe starting in May.”
– Scott Scanlon