Capital Roots' New 'Veggie Mobile' Hits The Streets
Capital Roots’ longstanding “produce aisle on wheels” has undergone a roughly $85,000 upgrade.
The new Veggie Mobile that hit the streets of New York’s Capital Region this week keeps its colorful look and sports a new entrance ramp, updated solar array, and biodiesel heater.
Of course, on a sizzling weekday in downtown Albany, the new heater isn’t being put to work – but a new glass-front refrigerator keeps produce cool and lets patrons browse with ease. Ligeia Peterson hugs a small metal fan as she rings out customers, but she doesn’t seem to mind the heat.
“I love just being around people and hearing everybody’s stories – and a lot of the time this is somebody’s social hour, somebody who doesn’t get to go out," Peterson says. "And being able to bring that opportunity and that space to everybody — I enjoy seeing it, I enjoy hearing it, I enjoy being around it.”
Capital Roots, a non-profit in Troy, founded its Veggie Mobile program in 2007 as a way to bring fresh produce to residents in urban communities typically described as “food deserts.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food desert” as any community without a full-standing market in a one-mile radius. CEO Amy Klein says such areas are common in the Capital Region – and given many residents either walk or use public transportation, the very layout of cities like Troy can limit access to fresh food.
“A street like Hoosick Street, for example – that’s not an easily crossed street. So even though you might have a market on the other side of Hoosick Street and that might be within a one-mile radius, it’s almost an insurmountable obstacle, to be able to cross a street like that safely," explains Klein.
Klein says the Veggie Mobile – along with its smaller “Sprout” edition – serves 37 locations in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga Counties year-round. Klein says that translates to nearly 60,000 customers a year getting produce at roughly half the market price.
“We don’t markup the produce, so whatever we buy it for is what we sell it for," she notes. "How we run our programs is through grants, through donations, through corporate support. CDPHP is a large supporter of our Veggie Mobile programs.”
Klein says CDPHP, the Wright Family Foundation, and a number of private donors chipped in to buy the new truck. With its lighter design, Peterson can more easily pack up and unload the long, metal entrance ramp on her own – but Klein says two people typically staff the truck through its rounds. Outside the Veggie Mobile on Albany’s Clinton Avenue, volunteer Wendy Prout dishes out free samples of Capital Roots salsa and salsa supplies.
“’Taste and Take’ is where people get to taste a recipe that was made, and then take they get to take some of the ingredients and the recipe home with them and make it," Prout notes.
The Veggie Mobile program has changed extensively in the last dozen years. Klein says Capital Roots now partners with local convenience stores and even has an online “Veggie Mobile” where customers can have their groceries delivered. But the physical truck, she says, is still the most popular, and considering the wear and tear of its predecessor, the new vehicle is crucial.
“People are very receptive, they’re excited for it, they wait for it to arrive," says Klein. "Especially a lot of the senior locations that we come to, it’s really a centerpiece for the day for many of the seniors. It really is a positive force in the community.”
You can learn more about the program and see the Veggie Mobile schedule here.