Published December 5, 2023
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Friday announced more than $700,000 in federal funding to support FreshFix and the Veggie Van Training Center at UB.
The training center is headed by Lucia Leone, primary investigator and associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions. The center supports local and regional food systems by helping to start, expand and improve mobile produce market programs. It also provides training, reporting and evaluation for organizations and professionals working to launch or expand a mobile market or other food access program.
Leone is also a co-founder, with her husband Joshua Bowen, of FreshFix, a Buffalo-based company that provides locally grown produce through a weekly subscription service in which boxes of fresh produce are delivered right to customers’ homes.
The $732,597 in funding was secured through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
FreshFix has been supporting local and regional farmers since 2016 through aggregating, distributing and marketing of local food to retail customers in Western New York. Currently, the organization partners with local farmers to deliver farm fresh foods to customers, but the expanded food hub will be aimed at improving access to healthy and affordable foods to underserved communities in the region.
Leah Vermont, director of the Veggie Van Training Center, stressed that the new food hub “will help lower the wholesale price of locally grown foods for nonprofits, including the UB Veggie Van mobile market, and allow us to serve more food insecure students over the next year.”
The FreshFix Food Hub is currently located in the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal building. The federal investment will be used to subsidize the cost of wholesale aggregation, allowing new buyers access to the locally grown food from small farmers and help small farmers increase their capacity for selling wholesale.
“These federal dollars will help the organization create an even more robust and resilient local food economy that keeps local farmers and producers connected to Western New York buyers, ensuring a fresh and sustainable food future for Buffalo families,” Schumer says.
“The project was originally driven by our nonprofit partners, specifically mobile markets who face significant challenges procuring smaller quantities of local food at wholesale prices,” says Leone. “Being recognized as a 2023 Local Food Promotion Program awardee by the USDA is an honor and validation to our team’s commitment to supporting local agriculture and cultivating a stronger, more equitable food system.”
The Veggie Van Training Center will work with FreshFix to provide technical assistance to nonprofits on developing food insecurity programming. FreshFix will also work with partners, including UB, to provide evaluation, partnership development, campaign tracking and technical assistance to nonprofits on developing food insecurity programming, as well as recruiting entrepreneurs to create value-added products using excess produce, thereby reducing farm waste.
In addition to supporting non-profit partners to develop food insecurity programs, the Veggie Van Training Center will help develop a coordinated marketing campaign to promote the importance of local food systems and farmers, and track purchasing of locally grown food in the region.