The Rapidian

Veggie Van increases access, builds community

The YMCA Veggie Van is well known for increasing healthy food access in Grand Rapids. However, this mobile farmers market is doing much more than delivering fresh veggies at a fair price.
YMCA Veggie Van

YMCA Veggie Van

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Veggie Van Info

  Veggie Van Schedule    

The YMCA Veggie Van is well-known for increasing healthy food access in Grand Rapids. However, this mobile farmers market is doing much more than delivering fresh veggies at a fair price. The Veggie Van brings people together, cultivates community around healthy food, and improves the quality of life for both its patrons and farmers. 

On any given morning, a number of the Veggie Van’s half-dozen suppliers will rise before dawn and deliver their product to the downtown YMCA. This morning, Ed and Robin Goen made the trek out to their newly constructed hoop house, a structure that has benefited the Goens by allowing them to extend Michigan’s short growing season and earn farm income nearly year-round. As dawn broke, Robin harvested mixed greens with flavors reminiscent of spicy mustard and black pepper, while Ed dug his hands into the cold earth for carrots. The Goens loaded their harvest into their old truck, and drove it from the serenity of their cultivated acres into the rush of downtown Grand Rapids.

When the Veggie Van staff, John and Luis, arrive to the Y, they load crates of the Goen’s fresh, Michigan vegetables into the Veggie Van. For John, a retired farmer and veteran of the Vietnam War, his work on the Veggie Van is a way to give back to the community. Luis is a young professional gone rogue, who abandoned his career in accounting to pursue a path more closely aligned with the rhythm of the earth. John and Luis smile at the dirt-marked note from Robin indicating that asparagus will be ready next week, and drive to the first scheduled stop of the day: Delaware Manor.

For nearly three years, the Veggie Van has made weekly stops at Delaware Manor, a residential community for senior adults who meet HUD low income qualifications. Many residents have limited mobility, and rely entirely on the Veggie Van for access to fresh fruits and vegetables. On this warm spring morning, residents are gathered beneath the awning of the building, anticipating the arrival of the Veggie Van. Several residents come out to greet John and Luis, and help unload crates of fruits and vegetables, baskets of Wealthy Street Bakery bread, and packages of Grassfield’s Organic Cheese onto the tables. When set-up is complete, one resident and loyal Veggie Van patron steps back, puts his hands on his hips, and observing the vibrancy of colors on the tables, says, “Well, it must be spring.”

As residents approach the table, John and Luis do much more than fill grocery bags with fresh, high-quality food. John explains to an eager customer when tomatoes will be ready, and promises her his wife’s recipe for homemade marinara sauce. Luis describes his favorite way to eat kale, a leafy green entirely unfamiliar to one curious shopper. Residents linger around the Veggie Van, talking casually with one another, snacking on their Veggie Van purchases, and occasionally bantering with the Veggie Van staff. Even folks who don’t make purchases from the Veggie Van come out of their rooms and into the fresh air to enjoy the camaraderie and community cultivated by the Veggie Van’s reliable presence. After 45 minutes, John and Luis reload the Veggie Van, and make their way to the second site of the day. 

The Veggie Van will visit three more sites today, and will visit more than 20 sites this week. Its impact on the residential communities, schools, and manufacturing facilities where it stops is subtle but remarkable. Through its daily work and commitment to the community, the Veggie Van is transforming the way Grand Rapids thinks about, engages with, and accesses healthy food.

For the Veggie Van’s complete schedule and to view a list of products available for purchase, visit: grymca.org/community-programs or contact program manager, Sara Vander Zanden: [email protected] or 616.855.9680.  

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