One of the best way to get healthy foods into underserved neighborhoods is to deliver it via a veggie van. Currently, there are two veggie vans operating in Buffalo’s food deserts – Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) and Urban Fruits and Veggies. As a way to fuel this effort even further, University at Buffalo has launched an innovative mobile produce market study across four states (NY, NC, MA and OH) – the UB research project also comes with funding for the nine organizations that run the food truck programs in the four aforementioned states. The project will see the partnering of “The UB Veggie Van” with the organizations over the course of the next few years. Ultimately, the empowered food trucks will be servicing lower income neighborhoods in 32 communities.
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 Corporation community center. Urban Fruits and Veggies’ proposed sites are the William-Emslie Family YMCA and True Bethel Baptist Church.
“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, assistant professor of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Health and Health Professions. Leone, PhD, is the principal investigator on the study.
The research study, funded in part by the National Cancer Institute, will see varying funds awarded to each of the organizations, along with software and technical assistance – a maximum of $50,000 each will offset the cost of organizations starting new market sites, while participating in the study. The nine recipient organizations all vied for the funding – overall, 50 applicants applied for the financial resources.
A mobile produce market summit was hosted at UB this past March – it was the first of its kind to be held in the US.
Part of this new initiative will see that studies are conducted by way of “veggie-meters”, which will measure how much the food trucks help residents to supplement their daily diets with healthy foods.
“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.”
Each of the food truck awardees will also have to offer cooking education and demonstrations, which is a critical component. Without the knowledge of how to prepare the foods, and not knowing about the wholesome benefits, communities might no embrace the food trucks as much.
“Ultimately we want to change fruit and vegetable consumption, but we’re also looking at why these changes occur,” Leone said.
If we can’t get a supermarket to roll into a food desert neighborhood, the next best thing is to have a healthy food truck roll up. Hopefully these new studies will not only help us to understand the disparaging dynamics when it comes to “haves” and “have nots”, the results will lead to bigger and better opportunities for everyone to source healthier food options.
Hat tip to buffalo.edu/news