A day before its official debut, a nondescript Chevy in need of a bath and a hubcap sat in the Community Crops parking lot on South Second Street.
Behold, the Veggie Van.
A merging of great ideas, and not much to look at.
At least not yet, said Ben McShane-Jewell, Community Crops’ garden program manager, who assured me the van will get a makeover, a yet-to-be finalized wraparound promoting its mission of making fresh produce accessible -- and affordable -- to those in need.
Until then, the minivan will travel incognito each Thursday to 23rd and O streets loaded with homegrown (and organic) garden goodness, offering its wares to anyone driving past between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (and at half price to those in need).
This week: cherry tomatoes and baby beets, salad turnips and bell peppers, basil and flat leaf parsley, jalapeños and pickling cucumbers, red potatoes and red onions, carrots and zucchini and purple daikon radish.
Next week: whatever’s ready to harvest.
It’s the culmination of a vision of healthy eating for people in the heart of Lincoln.
The Veggie Van is funded by a grant from the Community Health Endowment and is a partnership between Community Crops and Lutheran Family Services/Health 360 Clinic -- whose parking lot will serve as a storefront for the portable farmers market.
Community Crops had been scouting new markets for the produce it grows at its training farm east of Lincoln, McShane-Jewell said Wednesday.
For years, they had offered shares of produce to consumers for an annual fee -- something known as Community Supported Agriculture. But as the CSA market became more saturated, it made sense to find another path.
They’d talked about ways to get fresh produce in the hands of neighborhoods underserved by traditional farmers markets and often populated by people whose finances wouldn’t allow them to buy a share in a CSA (often hundreds of dollars a growing season).
“Health is incredibly important. More produce in the diet improves health,” McShane-Jewell said. “We’re also concerned with addressing unequal access to fresh produce in the city.”
They took their idea to the Community Health Endowment.
Its CEO, Lori Seibel, was interested.
She was already invested in a national movement called Health Beyond Healthcare.
“Health as more than prescription pads and doctors visits,” Siebel explained. “We go to the doctor’s office to get better, but health really happens outside of that.”
Seibel saw how the Veggie Van could grow good health here. A van filled with produce, parked in front of a medical clinic serving low-income clients, where refugee families and mental health clients came for services, too, down the street from Elliott Elementary and the low-income neighborhoods that surround it.
It sounded like a good start to Community Crops.
The nonprofit found out it was approved for funding last month.
“Since then it’s been a whirlwind,” McShane-Jewell said.
The past two Thursdays they’ve set up a pop-up tent in the parking lot along O Street -- “sort of a soft opening” -- and unloaded the van’s cargo onto tables.
“We want people going to that clinic to step out and buy produce,” McShane-Jewell said.
They’ve also reached out to social service agencies, including the Lincoln Food Bank and the Center for People in Need, letting them know the weekly market is open through October.
They will use some of the grant money to draw customers to the market -- banners in multiple languages, a wraparound mural for the Chevy with “a bright, colorful image of healthy produce.”
Anyone shopping with a SNAP card can purchase vegetables at a 50 percent discount.
Thursday is the Veggie Van’s grand opening. There will be a plethora of produce and drawings for prizes.
“We’re excited,” Seibel said Wednesday. “From our office, I can look right over there and see Elliott … I can walk over there tomorrow.”
So can you.