To celebrate their beloved Veggie Mobile, Capital Roots is “bringing the beets to the streets” for The Big Veg celebration tonight on the field outside of their River Street location in Troy.
The mobile produce market, which travels to 30 or more stops around the Capital Region each week, has been a source of fresh, healthy, local-farmer-produced groceries for the past decade.
Back in 2006, Amy Klein read an article about a U.S. Postal Service truck that had been repurposed to become “The People’s Grocery,” a mobile produce market in Oakland, California. Inspired, she and her team at Capital District Community Gardens (now Capital Roots) applied for a grant from the Department of Health and set out to make it happen. They just needed someone crazy enough to run it, so Amy Klein contacted Eric Krans.
The musician and his wife Jen O’Connor had just moved to upstate New York after a short stint in Bangkok, Thailand and had a dream, Krans said, “to be musicians and farmers.” By early 2007, the plans for the Veggie Mobile were set in motion. He built it up and continued to run the mobile shop for another eight years.
“When we first started working on it, people–even in the organization–were fairly sure it was going to be a disaster. We were nervously hopeful, but 10 years later here we are,” Krans, said.
After he and his team repurposed the truck to store fresh produce, they began designing a route that would serve people who lived far from grocery chains, particularly people in low-income neighborhoods.
“We made a mile radius around every grocery store in the Capital Region,” Krans explained. “The way grocery stores operate, they aren’t serving those in ‘food desert’ regions, so from day one we set out to alleviate that.”
In the first years, the Veggie Mobile operated three days a week in a cycle of eight stops around Troy and Albany. They put up the schedule on Facebook and left flyers on door handles. It was a hit.
“On the first day, we sold out of produce and ran out of cash for change,” he said. “We typically focused on downtown centers like Henry Johnson Blvd. or housing sites with a higher population density.”
By 2014, the demand was so high that the organization introduced The Sprout, a small truck that more than doubled the route. With 18 or 19 drop spots, the Veggie Mobile accessed more communities with more time for locals to stop and shop.
“With the number of spots we had, it didn’t give us enough time at each location to benefit [shoppers],” Krans said, explaining that trying to access broad areas with only an hour onsite didn’t give them the chance to do what they loved most–to get to know the community and chat about the produce they liked–or had never tried.
“It’s about being part of the community, actually getting out of the truck and meeting people. It’s an exciting event every week. There’s personal contact that’s raw and immediate with the people and the produce and the produce carries a bit of that with it,” Krans said.
Today’s party celebrates not only the success of the Veggie Mobile, but all that has branched out since, like the Healthy Corner Stores initiative–the brainchild of a Veggie Mobile staffer providing refrigerated produce units in local corner stores.
“I came in [to Capital Roots] when it was like five people, now it’s like 25,” Krans said. “It’s grown into this thing with multiple subsidiaries and we’re extending the reach of this as far as it can go.”
Bring your blankets and chairs to Capital Roots tonight in Troy to celebrate the decade of support the Veggie Mobile has brought to the region. There plenty of live music: Kimono Dragons goes on at 5 PM, followed by an excellent lineup that includes Pony and The Pancake, WoodchuckWood, C.C. Vagabonds and none other than The Parlor — the gentle, art-pop duo of Krans and O’Connor. Save room for the great food and drink vendors that include Nine Pin Cider, Rare Form Brewing, Emack and Bolio’s and more. Admission is free and all are welcome. — Capital Roots, 594 River Street, Troy
Photo provided by Capital Roots