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Veggie Van brings produce to ‘food desert’

Cart serves four Arvada neighborhoods weekly

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Fresh green beens, red potatoes, onions, cabbage and cucumbers were displayed in the back of an extra long golf cart as Shelly Cook drove around the Memorial Park Neighborhood in Arvada. She rang her bell at the sight of people walking, standing and working outside and offered them samples of freshly picked cherry tomatoes.

It was her Wednesday route.

Cook leads the effort of the Arvada Veggie Van to provide high quality, freshly picked local produce to areas of the city identified as food deserts. These are neighborhoods where no fresh food retailer exists within a half-mile.

The service is offered by Ride Provide Inc., a local nonprofit organization, with funding and support from the City of Arvada and LiveWell Colorado.

“I think its a good idea,” said Jessica McLean, an Arvada resident in the Memorial Park neighborhood. McLean’s son picked out fresh green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, cherry tomatoes and spices from the cart.

This was McLean’s first time buying produce from the Veggie Van, but she said her family will utilize it on a regular basis.

“Especially Wednesday around this time, I’m home from work and I’ve got cash on me,” McLean said. “And it’s an awesome price.”

Produce in the veggie van typically ranges in price for 20 cents to $1 per item. All items are grown locally with the main supply coming from Pioneer Farmsteaders in Arvada and Four Seasons Farmers and Artisans Market in Wheat Ridge.

Pioneer Farmsteaders, located at the historic Kennedy Farm Property near 68th and Garrison, adjacent to Majestic View Park, is a community supported agriculture farm with 45 members.

Ride Provide Inc. is a member and Cook picks up portions of freshly harvested produce for the Veggie Van weekly. The farm grows about 25 different crops throughout the year.

The idea for the Veggie Van came when Cook and her team at Ride Provide were putting their vans from the A-Line to bed each night at a parking lot at Vance Street and Robinson Way.

“We became aware that we were close to these neighborhoods because there was a lot of foot traffic through here,” Cook said. “We got to know the neighbors.”

Cook confessed that she didn’t know a lot about food. But she knows a lot about transportation. She and the team thought it would be a good idea to transport the vegetables into the neighborhood to diversify the food source.

Routes started a couple weeks ago. Each week the Veggie Van will be driving around not only the Memorial Park neighborhood but also the neighborhoods surrounding McIlvoy Park/Olde Town, Creekside Park and Columbine Park.

Cook said there has been some trial and error with pricing and finding customers.

“Mostly, we just want to make it easy for people to eat good, local food,” she said. “If we loose money on the food, no worries. We’re trying out a new concept. Worst case is a lot of people got food cheap, and what’s wrong with that? We’re cultivating a taste for what’s good and local.”

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