Release Date: July 22, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. — A University at Buffalo researcher’s Veggie Van project is revving up its engine.
The innovative mobile produce market study has announced funding for nine organizations — including two in Buffalo — across four states that it will partner with over the next few years.
The UB Veggie Van will help each organization either start or expand a mobile produce market. Each of the nine partners will operate their markets in up to four neighborhoods in their area for a total of 32 community sites that will be studied.
“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.
Funding amounts varied by organization, with a maximum of $50,000 to offset the cost of starting new market sites and participating in the research study, which is being funded in part by the National Cancer Institute. The Veggie Van team will also provide software and technical assistance to the partner organizations.
The research team received more than 50 applications when it solicited proposals from interested agencies across the country last fall. Finalists were invited to Buffalo to meet with researchers and the selection committee that ultimately chose the nine organizations receiving funding.
The Veggie Van awarded funding to two Buffalo mobile markets: Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) and Urban Fruits and Veggies.
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.
Additional funded partners include Local Matters, Columbus, Ohio; The Bulb, Charlotte, North Carolina; Mobile Oasis, Greensboro, North Carolina; Feast Down East, Wilmington, North Carolina; Nuestras Raices, Holyoke, Massachusetts; Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Long Island, New York; and Community Food Initiatives, Athens, Ohio.
The Food Lion Feeds Charitable Foundation in North Carolina supplied additional funding to support markets in Charlotte and Greensboro. Leone and her team met representatives from the foundation at the mobile produce market summit, the first such event held in the U.S., which UB hosted in March.
Leone’s current study builds off a smaller Veggie Van project she conducted with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Last year, the research team published the results of the first randomized controlled trial for a mobile market. The study showed that mobile markets can help improve fruit and vegetable intake in lower income communities.
Working with the nine partner organizations, Leone hopes to obtain further evidence of the positive impact of mobile produce markets, as well as evaluating the success of the Veggie Van business model and operations.
Researchers will use a “veggie-meter” device to gauge whether mobile market shoppers are actually eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of the markets setting up shop in their community.
“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.”
The study will also examine the drivers for such changes. Toward that end, each of the nine partners will be required to provide cooking education and demonstrations as part of their operations. Studies have shown that confidence in preparing fresh produce is actually more important than having access, Leone noted.
“Ultimately we want to change fruit and vegetable consumption, but we’re also looking at why these changes occur,” Leone said.
In addition, they’ll research the ease or difficulty of implementing and running a mobile produce market, while reviewing each operation’s community engagement strategy and financial model to help them be more successful as a business.