USDA awards Veggie Van study $750,000 to expand resources for mobile market operators – UB Now: News and views for UB faculty and staff

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By DAVID J. HILL

UB’s Veggie Van team has received $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support the expansion of the Veggie Van Training Center and the Mobile Market Coalition, resources that are used by mobile markets across the country.

A team led by Lucia Leone, associate professor of community health and health behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions, designed the Veggie Van Training Center to help mobile markets become more effective and sustainable by providing them training on evidence-based practices.

The team also supported creation of the Mobile Market Coalition with mobile market practitioners across the country in an effort to encourage networking and support. The coalition grew out of the Mobile Market Summit, which began at UB in 2019 — it was the first-ever such summit — and has brought together practitioners from across North America each year since.

The USDA funding will allow the Veggie Van team to work with mobile market leaders across the U.S. to develop and implement a strategic plan and charter for the Mobile Market Coalition to connect and support mobile market operators, while establishing standards of operation and promoting best practices. In addition, it will support the Mobile Market Summit for the next three years. (This year’s summit is scheduled for March 29-30, with in-person and virtual options available.)

The grant will also go toward expanding the Veggie Van Training Center to provide training and technical assistance for new and established mobile markets through the Veggie Van Toolkit, which offers step-by-step instructions for starting and running a mobile produce market. The training center also offers a Mobile Market 101 course for organizations looking to start or expand a mobile market program. Funding will also support a mentoring program and webinars or connection with other training resources.

The team also plans to create regional mobile market networks to facilitate operator training, resource sharing and obtaining food from local sources.

“We are excited to work with an amazing team of mobile market operators. Our goal is to support their work so that they can continue to help expand access to locally grown and produced foods in underserved communities, and connect producers with new markets,” Leone says.

Leone and her team have been researching the benefits of mobile markets for the past decade. She previously received $3.1 million from the National Cancer Institute to expand the Veggie Van model to mobile markets in Buffalo and other parts of the U.S., while also studying whether mobile markets prove effective in helping people in underserved neighborhoods eat more fruits and vegetables.

The Veggie Van study began in 2011 when Leone was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where a pilot Veggie Van program was developed in partnership with the Community Nutrition Partnership, for which Leone serves as president.

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