“Veggie Van” brings fresh local produce to WNY food deserts

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In some areas of Western New York, it can be tough to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables- especially without transportation. 

Food deserts are defined as areas without grocery stores, farmers markets, or other fresh food providers within a mile radius. 

Enter the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Veggie Van. 

The Veggie Van is a mobile farmers market loaded with fresh produce grown in Niagara County or other farms around the state. 

The van will be at four locations in Lackawanna on Wednesdays and four locations in Niagara Falls this summer. 

That’s double the number of locations as last year, Jen Regan, Veggie Van Coordinator, said. 

“I think people really love it,” Regan said. “People love a farmers market- but having one driving up to your neighborhood or close by- it makes that access so much nicer.” 

The Veggie Van was born out of a five year grant from the New York State Department of Health called “Creating Healthy Schools and Communities.” 

Now in its fourth year, the mobile market has proven popular with residents in the communities it visits. 

“People are usually very happy to see us, and we’re happy to see them,” Regan said. “The kids like to try something new, something different.” 

The produce on the veggie van comes from local farms. On Wednesday- the van’s first day of the season- the truck offered items like chard, kale, and zucchini from McCollum Orchards in Lockport and Hillers Farm Market in Burt. 

“It’s wonderful to highlight the beautiful produce we have here,” Regan said. “We’ve gotta help our farmers.” 

The van accepts cash, EBT, Farmers Nutrition Program checks, and Double Up Food Bucks- a program which doubles the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables EBT users can buy- up to $20 worth. 

“It’s a great way to get healthy food to families who really need food help,’ Regan said. 

Some of the Veggie Van stops this summer will feature vegetables grown by the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Beginning Farmer Training Program, which teaches new and aspiring farmers how to run a farm business. 

Representatives from the Eat Smart New York program, which is the nutrition arm of CCE, will be at some of the truck’s stops offering lessons on how to cook the fresh produce. 

The Veggie Van can be found at the following locations this summer: 

Lackawanna

Wednesdays July 10 to Sept. 25, except August 31

10 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Baker Victory Services, 730 Ridge Road (rear)

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Lackawanna Senior Center, 230 Martin Road 

1 p.m. to 2 p.m. – Memorial Field Center, 550 Ridge Road 

2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Taggart Park/LMHA, 135 Odell St. 

Niagara Falls

Thursdays from July 11 to Sept. 26, except Aug. 1

10 a.m. to 11 a.m. – St. John de LaSalle parking lot, 8600 Buffalo Ave. 

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.- John Duke Senior Center, 1201 Hyde Park Boulevard 

1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Carolyn’s House/YWCA, 542 Sixth St. 

2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Niagara Falls Public Library, 1425 Main St. 

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