Veggie Van Mobile Farmers' Market
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“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Carteret Local Food Networks believes that education is key to sustainable change. We seek to address both immediate needs such as hunger and food security as well as long-term needs such as food equality, education surrounding fresh local produce seasonality, availability, preparation methods, and the necessary confidence building required to try new food items and procure them in the future.
We work to fulfill our mission of protecting and promoting a local food system that builds community, supports the local economy, nurtures a healthy environment, and produces nutritious, delicious food by creating and implementing an innovative Veggie Van project that is an entirely new creation in our area, building upon the mobile market models that have already been shown to be successful in larger, less rural areas. We wish to share successes and troubleshoot challenges in food retail programming for lower-income, disadvantaged, elderly, or minority communities within our county, increasing food access, food security, and food equality throughout Eastern North Carolina.
Our proposed Veggie Van Program will allow us to:
provide low-wealth, disadvantaged, elderly, or minority communities with access to healthy, fresh food at reasonable prices while creating new markets for local small- to mid-sized farmers;
supplement the Meals on Wheels program that delivers weekly in our area and to reduce the reliance on transportation to any church or other organizations that provide pantry services while increasing food access in our elderly or disadvantaged communities
The need for Carteret Local Food Network’s Veggie Van Program is great. Our community has struggled with food equality and security for several years and its effects have been further amplified by recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Florence, changes in employment due to COVID-19, the increasing number of convenience stores and fast food restaurants being developed within our county, lack of public transportation, a low incidence of stores accepting federal SNAP/EBT (Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program/Electronics Benefits Transfer) within our area, and lack of education regarding ways to obtain and prepare healthy seasonal local foods.
Statistics show that large portions of Carteret County are considered a food desert, which, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is identified as large proportion of households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce and healthy groceries for affordable prices (Dutko, Ver Ploeg, & Farrigan, 2012). A study conducted by the USDA in August 2012 showed that “increased attention to national health issues, such as the rising incidence of obesity and the growing prevalence of diabetes and other weight-related diseases, especially in children, has made the concept of healthy food access increasingly important” (Dutko, Ver Ploeg, & Farrigan, 2012, p. 1)
The 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment published by the Carteret County Health Department in association with Carteret Health Care showed low-income and 65+ years of age populations are finding it increasingly difficult to access healthy foods via grocery stores (p. 79). “Participants [in this research study] shared that they struggled with not being able to afford to eat healthy foods or knowing what to select as healthy food choices when eating away from home. Fast food restaurants were described as being close and convenient compared to healthier alternatives. Specific issues included difficulty finding fresh vegetables due to limited choices for grocery stores and family traditions around cooking” (2018 Community Needs Assessment, 2018, p. 83).
Carteret Local Food Network has confronted these issues in the past, but we believe a more coordinated effort with greater support will help to solve the issues in our community surrounding food insecurity and food equality. We have already implemented culinary classes to help educate members of our community about sourcing locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables, addressing discomfort with trying new food items, increasing confidence in their home kitchens, and teaching recipes that can be easily manipulated to include a variety of seasonally available produce. However, it is not enough to wait for members of our community to come to us to learn about these benefits–we must be able to address the issues of poverty and transportation as well and we must do it within their neighborhoods, at their homes, and at times that are convenient for them.
If our Veggie Van Program is not implemented, Carteret County is at a continued risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues linked to poor diet, lack of access to nutritionally dense foods, and minimal consumer education about the benefits associated with eating locally, seasonally, and having access to a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables.
Our expertise and background in education, nutrition, connections with local food sources, experience in the restaurant industry, and strong desire to promote food security and equality as well as our partnerships with local farmers, the NC Department of Agriculture, multiple local NC State University Cooperative Extensions, Carteret Catch, local churches and parish halls, and local businesses place Carteret Local Food Network in a unique position to make a major difference.