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Mobile veggie vans to reach underserved communities

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WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
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A project designed to bring Mobile Produce Markets to underserved communities is receiving a big boost.  Rep. Brian Higgins announced a $3.1 million federal grant from the National Cancer Institute for five years. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the project is being led by the University at Buffalo’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.

“A lot of the places that do offer produce in lower income communities don't offer good quality produce. It’s not like what you see when you walk into Wegmans,” said Dr. Lucia Leone, UB Assistant Professor.   

Leone has been researching how to expand access of fresh foods through mobile produce markets. She study this through the use of 'veggie vans' while at UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Researches used mobile vans in 12 communities, bringing in fresh, local produce to lower income and underserved residents.

"We know that there's a lot of organizations around the country that are wanting to start mobile markets or that are already starting mobile markets, but whether they’re running them in a way that is actually having an impact on diet, we're not sure, so we wanted to be able to help those organizations, make sure they are using the best practices and evidence-based practices in running their mobile markets,” explained Leone.  

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Credit Photo from UB website
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Dr. Lucia Leone, assistant professor, University at Buffalo’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.

The federal grant will allow UB's Leone and her project collaborators to provide technical assistance and funding to eight organizations in 32-different communities allowing the researchers to find out if the mobile market programs would work on a larger-scale.    

“We did see some really good initial results that people were eating up to a cup more per day of fruits and vegetables based on if they were using the ‘veggie van’ program,” Leone remarked.

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Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
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Fresh produce.

Leone also explained how they are using a 'Veggie Meter' in their research to figure out if people are really eating enough fruits and vegetables in their diets.

“It’s a little bit of experimental procedures, but one of the challenges with doing any type of research on diet is we rely on people to tell us what they ate,” replied Leone.  “And it actually dermal carotenoids or carotenoids in your skin."

Leone said the goal is to have one of the eight mobile market communities to include a western New York organization. Request for proposals go out this fall for those interesting in seeking funding for a mobile market.