Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Veggie Van Wraps Up First Season, Changes Likely for Next Year

By Christina Georgiou

Residents wait in line for fresh, locally grown
produce at the last Easton Veggie Van stop
of the season Monday evening in the city's West Ward.
 Easton's Veggie Van distributed its last load of locally grown produce for this year yesterday evening--approximately 300 pounds to about 50 city residents--and while the final results and the exact future of the program are yet to be determined, the volunteers who run it say their effort to get more fresh, healthy foods to West Ward residents was a definitely a success.

A total of more than 1,500 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit were distributed this summer, coming from local gardens at Lafayette College, the Urban Farm in Easton's South Side, and from community gardens in the West Ward, including the one at South 10th and Pine streets, where six of the seven weekly summer Veggie Van stops took place.

The project was a collaboration between the annual Lafayette College multi-discipline technology clinic and the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, and both groups said they will be crunching numbers, tallying answers given on surveys circulated among Veggie Van customers, and analyzing collected data, to determine how the program will best work next year.

While the produce was given away for free this year, with donations gratefully accepted, that will probably change in 2014, said more than one person involved in the program. Giving away the produce at first not only helped the group gauge public interest, but also get around city ordinances pertaining to vending and eliminate the need for paying for permitting when the success of the effort was still untested and uncertain.

"For us, as a sort of intellectual exercise, which is what the tech clinic is, there is a lot to work on for next year," said Lafayette College professor Larry Malinconico, who also serves at the tech clinic's advisor. "We learned things over the summer. There are day-to-day mundane things, like 'What do you need?' Bags, for one thing, though people were bringing their own."

What the best way to distribute the bounty was also something the tech clinic will be working on, he said, noting that while it was clear from the beginning the idea was popular, the first week, held during the city's Summer Nights program at Centennial Park, emphasized the need for a more controllable situation.

While moving the distribution point to the 10th Street community garden provided that and is fairly centrally located in the West Ward, next year the program may add a second weekly distribution spot, or possibly even use the "ice cream truck" model to get the fresh veggies to residents.

Allie Nagurney, Lafayette College tech clinic student coordinator,
distributes produce at the last Easton Veggie Van stop
of the summer Monday evening.
"We had to work hard to get people here," said Allie Nagurney, who serves as the project's student coordinator. "Whether people will 'get it' with someone driving around, I don't know."

Still, the program's popularity grew during the summer months, and the volunteers are happy with the outcome of their efforts.

"It was rewarding to see new people, that word got out," Malinconico said. "We learned a lot. It was successful in terms of the goal of making people aware of nutrition and fresh vegetables."

"It was very different that I expected it to be, but I learned a lot," Nagurney added.

The program has the potential too to eventually employ an entrepreneurial resident to run it, especially if those involved determine the "ice cream truck" model will work as a way to bring fresh produce to those in the West Ward, opined Sophia Feller, who coordinates several community gardens in the city and works as the WWNP's administrative secretary. Under this scenario, the produce would be sold to customers, though prices would be moderately set to ensure affordability, she added.

Tech Clinic students, along with those from the WWNP, involved in the project are set to meet later this week to discuss various aspects of Veggie Van experiment. Tech Clinic participants will also be brainstorming on the project's further evolution this fall, with a public presentation of their findings set for some time in December.

But whatever the Tech Clinic finds and whatever decisions are made for next year's Veggie Van, one thing is certain.

"The is a West Ward effort. The Tech Clinic helped facilitate this," Malinconico said. "But it has to be a neighborhood effort to be successful."

1 comment:

  1. Just finding this blog. Adding you to my blogroll:


    Fellow Eastonian. =)