Veggies on Wheels: How a San Jose delivery program gets produce to residents more sustainably
When I first came to Emma Prusch Farm Park, I was greeted by a slew of chickens roaming the parking lot carefree. The chickens were clearly accustomed to any visitors, as evidenced by the nonchalance they displayed as I tried to maneuver around them to access a parking space. Some of the chickens even stood on people’s cars.
The farm is loud and colorful, with hand-painted wooden signs in the shape of cows as you enter, and signs telling you where to go to see the gardens or the petting area. The farm sits just below 101 and 680. It is the largest urban farm in San Jose.
What started as a direct response to the COVID-19 shutdowns has turned into a full-fledged operation. the Eastside Connect Programin partnership with the Silicon Valley Bike Coalitiondelivers fresh local produce to low-income communities by bike, to develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly food systems.
Veggielution operates from two locations: the farm in East San Jose and a warehouse downtown. At the warehouse, stacks of cardboard produce boxes line plastic tables, filled to the brim with fresh vegetables waiting to be packed and sent to the assembly line. The crates of product are then stacked in towers on wooden pallets, ready to be transported. These product boxes will then be delivered to families or available for pick-up at the farm.
At the farm, I spoke to a couple who have been volunteering since the program started in March 2020. In fact, Jon and Miki haven’t missed a single day of cycling.
Riders are usually assigned to the same routes. John and Miki’s route takes them further east to the neighborhoods around Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Their 20-30 mile trip takes them about two hours to complete. As part of the security measures related to COVID-19, motorcyclists are asked to simply drop off the boxes from the farm at the doorstep of the families.
“Once when we delivered the box of vegetables, an elderly couple was walking down the street – I think they were walking and they knew we were delivering their box of vegetables, and they were so grateful and they said :” God bless you. Thanks very much.’ And we really felt good.
Outside of Veggielution, Jon has been an avid biker – riding adventure bikes in his spare time. He got Miki into cycling by volunteering with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and Veggielution. Typically, riders borrow a trailer from Veggielution to haul four to eight boxes per bike. Jon walks us through his slightly different setup, where he attaches the boxes to his bike’s body for better weight distribution and easier cornering.
They also amuse me with a tour of their bikes and gear.
“I had a bike that was like that, it was a 1995 Diamondback Topanga, but when I did the first bike trip to Africa for the World Tour type stuff I do, maybe third to last day of the trip, we were in the middle of nowhere, sort of at a crossroads and this car stopped there and three young blonde women got out. Turns out they were in the Peace Corps and had just arrived. And one of them says, ‘Oh, I wish I had brought a bike.’ And, in my mind, I was calculating that it would probably cost $200 to ship the bike home, so I sold it to him for $15. Then I came home and started missing that bike so I started looking on Craigslist for a replacement and this is what it is.
I also spoke with Emily Schwing, Director of Public Affairs for Veggielution. I asked him about his work around sustainable food systems.
“So a food system basically goes from the seed that goes into the soil to what happens to your food when it’s finished, the compost. So that’s it, where are the seeds bought from, where are they planted? How are the individuals who grow these products treated? Each step is part of the food system. How far do you have to walk to get to the grocery store or farmer’s market? How is it sold? And then, is it culturally relevant?
She discusses the role of urban farms in building accessible and sustainable food systems, especially in low-income areas.
“Urban agriculture is definitely an important aspect when you think about the food system. Urban farms are not necessarily going to solve the crisis in our food system around access to local products. But these spaces teach and educate individuals about the importance of locally grown vegetables. Thus, the urban farm is somewhat of an entry point for individuals to engage with the local food system. It’s important for us at Veggielution not only to talk about working on the food system, but also about working on food sovereignty – that the people who receive these products are also at the center of making these decisions, that they have the choice of where they want their products to come from and where they want their products to go, and how they want to buy them. »
Veggielution and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition are always looking for volunteers. To sign up to pack product boxes or make bike deliveries, visit the Veggielution website. You can also visit their farm stand at Emma Prusch Park Every Saturday, which takes EBT and CalFresh.