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UB researcher’s Veggie Van gains traction

A University at Buffalo researcher’s Veggie Van project will rev up nine organizations in four states, including two in Buffalo.

The van will help each organization either start or expand a mobile produce market as it studies ways to include such a model to promote healthier eating. A total of 32 community sites will be studied.

“We want to know if having these mobile markets in communities that have limited access to fresh produce leads to changes in what people are eating,” said Lucia Leone, principal study investigator and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Health and Health Professions.

Funding amounts varied by organization, with a maximum of $50,000 to offset the cost of starting new market sites and participating in the research study, which is being funded in part by the National Cancer Institute.

The Veggie Van team will also provide software and technical assistance to the partner organizations.

More than 50 applicants submitted proposals from interested agencies across the country last fall. Finalists were invited to Buffalo to meet with researchers and the selection committee that ultimately chose the nine organizations receiving funding.

The Veggie Van project awarded funding to the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) and Urban Fruits and Veggies mobile markets in Buffalo.

MAP will run its mobile market at the Veterans One Stop of WNY, St. John’s Towers Senior Housing, Hispanics United of Buffalo and the Seneca Street Community Development Corp. community center.

Urban Fruits and Veggies’ proposed sites are the William-Emslie Family YMCA and True Bethel Baptist Church.

Also funded were Local Matters, of Columbus, Ohio; the Bulb, Charlotte, N.C.; Mobile Oasis, Greensboro, N.C.; Feast Down East, Wilmington, N.C.; Nuestras Raices, Holyoke, Mass.; Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Long Island; and Community Food Initiatives, Athens, Ohio.

The Food Lion Feeds Charitable Foundation in North Carolina supplied additional funding.

Leone and her team welcomed representatives to UB from the foundation in March during a mobile produce market summit, the first event of its kind in the U.S.

Leone’s current study builds off a smaller Veggie Van project she conducted with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Last year, the research team published results of the first randomized controlled trial for a mobile market. The study showed that mobile markets can help improve fruit and vegetable intake in lower income communities.

Working with nine partner organizations, Leone hopes to obtain further evidence of the impact of mobile produce markets, as well as evaluate the success of the Veggie Van business model and operations.

Researchers will use a “veggie-meter” device to gauge whether mobile market shoppers are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of the markets setting up shop in their community.

“That’s our main outcome,” Leone said. “The idea of these mobile produce markets sounds great, but we want to know if they’re actually leading to dietary changes.”

The study also will examine the drivers for such changes. Toward that end, each of the nine partners will be required to provide cooking education and demonstrations as part of their operations. Studies have shown that confidence in preparing fresh produce is more important than having access, Leone said.

In addition, they’ll research the ease or difficulty of implementing and running a mobile produce market, while reviewing each operation’s community engagement strategy and financial model to help them be more successful.


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