Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Veggie Van Proves to Be a Hit with Local Residents

By Christina Georgiou

The Easton "Veggie Van" arrives Tuesday evening at Centennial Park
in the city's West Ward, with an estimated 300 pounds of fresh, locally
grown produce for distribution to enthusiastic residents.
Contributed photo by Larry Malinconico.
Loaded with an estimated 300 pounds of locally grown fresh produce, the new Easton Veggie Van was scheduled to be at the city's Summer Nights program for an hour and a half Tuesday evening. Stuffed to the gills, organizers wondered if they'd brought more food than they could distribute.

Instead, more than 90 percent of the vegetables were eagerly snatched up in about 15 minutes.

Less than an hour later, Veggie Van volunteers packed up, with only four zucchini and eight leaves of collard greens remaining.

The project, one of several to get more fresh, healthy food into the hands of Easton residents, is a collaboration between the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership and Lafayette College's Technology Clinic, which has been studying ways to make healthy food more accessible in the city neighborhood where many don't have cars and struggle to make ends meet.

Lynne Holden, with the West Ward
Neighborhood Partnership, assists
with bagging collard greens, while
right, Lafayette student Tech Clinic
coordinator Allie Nagurney, stands
ready with recipes to distribute.
 The Veggie Van--a small pickup truck, actually--came laden with 80 pounds of cucumbers, 100 pounds of zucchini, 40 pounds of summer squash, buckets of collard greens and swiss chard, beets, carrots, string beans, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbages and onions, along with some herbs like basil and parsley. All the produce was grown locally, coming from the Lafayette farm project, the Easton Urban Farm, the Crayola garden, and various other community gardens around the city.

The Tech Clinic has been working on coming up with solutions to much of the West Ward being a "food desert"--defined in this case as a mostly low-income neighborhood where many residents don't have a vehicle and live more than a mile from the closest full-service grocery store--for the past two years, said Lafayette College geology professor Larry Malinconico, who serves as the group's advisor.

Students in the clinic come from a variety of backgrounds and majors, and aim to come up with solutions to local issues using an interdisciplinary approach. This year, the group decided to focus on better ways to get fresh food to those who may have difficulty getting to a grocery store  or affording it a the city's twice weekly farmers' market.

Nearly completely cleaned out of food in less than an hour,
the Veggie Van crew is ready to pack up.

While the city has a number of community gardens, these weren't solving the problem of getting fresh food to residents either, he said.

"People weren't coming to the community gardens, and (the vegetables) were getting wasted," Malinconico said.

The Tech Clinic looked at what people in other communities were doing to solve their issues, and eventually decided to try "the ice cream truck" model--that is, bringing the food to the neighborhood, he said.

Lafayette sophomore Allie Nagurney, who serves as the project's student coordinator, said the approach seems to be a success so far.

"Once it was announced, everyone wanted some," she said, adding that the truck will be visiting various locations in the West Ward weekly for the next five or six weeks.

A Veggie Van enthusiast sets off for home.
 The method of distribution will probably be tweaked for the Veggie Van's appearance next week, she added. While this week was certainly a success, and about 40 people were recipients of the truck's bounty, some received more produce than others, and some vegetables ran out before others had the chance to get them.

But Nagurney had no complaints about the food going so quickly and said the project seems to be a success so far.

"We worked really hard to make this happen," she said, adding that she hopes the Veggie Van will become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood for years to come.

"We're hoping to make this a yearly thing," she said. "We want to make it sustainable."

For now, the vegetables are free, though donations to help offset costs are welcomed.

Running the Tech Clinic costs about $8,000 annually, Malinconico estimated, noting that it's the one program Lafayette doesn't fund, and that he and students must cover the costs of the projects the program undertakes themselves.

Along with the produce, the volunteers also handed out recipes for the individual vegetables on hand, which might eventually provide one source of offset revenue for the future.

"It would be fun to get a little cookbook together by the end of the summer too," Nagurney said.

Next week, the Veggie Van will be stopping at South 10th and Pine streets, the site of one community garden in the West Ward, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The community garden at South 10th and Pine streets will
be the site of the next Veggie Van stop, next Monday,
beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Expected to be on the truck are zucchini, cucumbers, beets, summer squash, beans, carrots, lettuce and other greens, onion, garlic, and more, Nagurney said, adding that the program will continue weekly, on Mondays, for the next five or six weeks.

Next Monday's location was deliberately chosen to further help raise awareness and hopefully help residents begin to grow their own summer crops too, Malinconico said.

"We want people to know where the community gardens are," he said.

Beyond next Monday, July 22, future Veggie Van drop-off locations are yet to be determined. Bookmark this page and check back for more dates--we'll provide updates as soon as they're announced.


  1. A job well done by WWNP, Lafayette and the volunteers of the urban gardening projects. It hasn't been an easy or fast process, but it is great to see the efforts resulting in what has been the long term goal: better nutrition and food access for the West Ward. Keep up the good work. I know more good ideas are coming.

    Dennis R. Lieb

  2. Bringing fresh food to urban "deserts" is a great problem solver; hunger and food insufficiency has many faces - making more nutritious food available is a solution that we applaud