The Veggie Truck Farmers Market is all about local food with its new season.
The market starts its second year in a new location across from the Kroc Center, which was chosen for a specific purpose.
“If you’ve been in that neighborhood, you can see that St. Luke’s is right next to Calhoun Expressway and as nice as St. Luke’s is, that Calhoun Expressway really cuts things in half,” said Meredith Poldrack-Segrist, the publicity coordinator with the Veggie Truck Farmers Market. “The Kroc Center coming to that neighborhood has created in the area on the other side a nice, clean space with a lot of traffic, a lot of energy and a lot of people coming through that maybe wouldn’t come through. I think a lot of people even from Columbia County come over to the Kroc Center. So, while we’re trying to capture and serve Harrisburg with the market, it doesn’t really hurt when people throughout the community can come and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here,’ so we can be a part of that energy and so people from the neighborhood can be a part of that energy too.”
Since the market will get more visibility, they have partnered with several organizations, including Augusta Locally Grown, St. Luke United Methodist Church and Good Neighbor Ministries.
“The Veggie Truck Market is just one aspect of what we (Augusta Locally Grown) do as an organization,” said Kim Hines, the director of Augusta Locally Grown. “But, it’s a really important one because it focuses on a community that has been designated a food desert, where access to fruits and vegetables is minimal, but also access to locally grown and organically grown fruits and vegetables is almost impossible.”
All the food featured at the market will be from local farmers, meaning farmers come anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour away, Hines said. The farmers will sell a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, honey, eggs, baked goods, nuts and meats.
Despite selling a plethora of food, the Veggie Truck Market is relatively small market.
Besides farmers, the market will also feature several weekly activities, including a cooking class or cooking demo and children’s activities.
“The first week is going to be cooking demo, we’re going to feature kale since kale is in season,” Hines said. “We have a GRU medical student volunteer who will be doing that and the demo will show how to use the season food, how to cook with it and then we’ll give samples out.”
The cooking class will feature a new food every week and the food used will depend on what is in season and available at the market, Hines said. This activity is an important part of the market.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it means to eat seasonally or locally and so it really is about education,” Hines said. “It’s about getting people to buy something obviously, but it’s really about helping people understand why they would want to buy it.”
To help further the educational aspect of the market, there will also be weekly children’s activities based on the Kids Market Passport Program, which was started by Augusta Locally Grown last year at the Evans Towne Market.
“What they do is, every week there’s also a seasonal food featured and there are four activities that they do with high school student interns with us,” Hines said. “So, the four activities involve cooking with the food, we’ll actually do hands-on cooking with the food, tasting the food and evaluating it. We’re not expecting them to always like it, but we ask them to taste it. There’s always an artsy thing to go with it and there’s always a conversation they have with the farmers.”
The market will also feature a five-week Camp Veggie Truck, where approximately 50 kids in the Harrisburg community can come and learn how to cook a healthy meal, Hines said.
“They spent the morning having a healthy, locally grown breakfast that our young chefs can come in and cook together,” Hines said. “Then the kids would spend the morning doing gardening activities, harvesting from the garden and using food that we brought in. Then the 50 kids and about 50 volunteers from GRU School of Medicine, so it’s a one-on-one ratio, would cook together a meal for about 100 people every Tuesday. So imagine the kids chopping up spinach, the adults chopping up onions and we’re doing a main course, some sides of some sort, we’re even barbecuing up some meats, doing a dessert. In the afternoon at camp those GRU students would work with them on wellness and fitness exercises, so they got the full range.”
To help ensure that as many people as possible enjoy the local foods and activities offered at the market, Hines said there is a lot fundraising done to make it as affordable as possible. This is achieved with their food stamp doubling program.
“We are the only local foods farmers market in Augusta that accepts food stamps,” Hines said. “We are also the only farmers market in all of the CSRA that doubles the value of the food stamps, so if you come to me and you have a Snap benefits, which come on a card, and you swipe that card for, say, $10, we’re going to give you $20 in market tokens to spend with the farmers.”
However, to make sure the farmers don’t lose out on any profits from selling their products, there is a partnership in place with Wholesome Wave Georgia.
“They raise 60 percent of the money and we raise 40 percent of it,” Hines said. “I’m very proud of the fact that last year the portion of the match that the Veggie Truck covered was completely covered by people who buy at Augusta Locally Grown’s other market. With $1, $2 and $5 donations it was completely covered. It was also covered by folks who buy locally because they want to see everyone have access to this really good food.”
Besides a partnership and donations, the market also raises money through sponsorships and grants.
“We currently receive a grant that we will be using, a grant that will be administered by GRU, that helps cover some of the administrative costs like the EBT machine and we have Camp Veggie Truck,” Hines said. “But we are looking for sponsors to cover the costs of the cooking demos, the materials for the children’s supplies. So we are looking for more.”
Hines said that this season of the Veggie Truck is just one more step in growing a vibrant local food scene.
“I think that people should come to any farmers market to support, one, local farmers,” Hines said. “If we’re going to grow the local food scene, we have to start, one, buying from local farmers and, two, getting to know them as friends and neighbors and trusted and beloved people in our community. Another reason to come to the Veggie Truck Market is because this is some of the best food you’re going to get. No matter who you are, no matter how much income you make, this food is grown in such a clean way, in such a fresh way. There’s no doubt that nutrients are retained when foods are eaten that day and you can talk to farmers about how the food is grown, you can talk to them about how their chickens are being treated and cared for.”
The market kicks off Tuesday, March 25, from 4:30-7 p.m. across from the Kroc Center and will feature live, local music, along with the cooking class and children’s activities. The market will be every Tuesday until October. For more information, visit veggietruck.org. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, contact Kim Hines at 706-288-7895 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.