Farmer Beverly Thomas pulled into a downtown parking lot and honked her horn, which sounds like a clucking chicken.
Within minutes, shoppers stepped aboard the Veggie Van to browse among the bright green okra and stalks of yellow corn.
Billed as the region’s first mobile farmers market, the van schedules stops at parks, businesses and homes in Tarrant, Parker and Dallas counties.
“I’m bringing the farm directly to people,” said Thomas, whose van was parked outside the Texas & Pacific Lofts one recent afternoon.
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Mobile farmers markets are growing in popularity, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program. In Waco, World Hunger Relief opened a mobile market this year, and Truckin’ Tomato started in San Antonio last year.
Thomas launched the Veggie Van in January after she read about a New York farmer doing the same. She bought an old van from a man in Graham and outfitted the interior with shelves and baskets for produce, with prices scribbled on chalkboards. The pricing method is similar to what consumers see at farmers markets: Brussels sprouts or okra, $5 a basket, tomatoes, four for $5.
“The Farmacy” is painted on the back.
“The food is healthier because it is picked at the moment of ripeness, and it’s more flavorful because of that,” she said. “It isn’t picked early and shipped halfway across the world. The quality is much higher, in my opinion.”
The food is grown about 40 miles west of Fort Worth, near Weatherford, where Thomas runs Cold Springs Farm, a 35-acre sustainable organic farm.
For Sue Erwin, who lives in the T&P Lofts, proximity is the draw.
“This comes right to my doorstop. You can’t get fresher than this,” said Erwin, who shops on the Veggie Van every week. “As someone who does not have a plot of dirt to grow my own food, it’s nice to have this connection to nature.”
That connection is missing for many people, Thomas said, so part of her work is educating customers. When she opened, some shoppers asked for tomatoes and zucchini.
“People are used to being able to get whatever they want whenever they want it at the grocery store,” Thomas said. “We have to explain that you don’t grow tomatoes in the middle of winter.”
Thomas hopes to expand the van’s reach to some area food deserts —neighborhoods that lack ready access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
For now, she makes scheduled stops once or twice a week around Fort Worth and hopes to increase the number after she plants crops for late summer and early fall.
Customers such as Ben Price, who sifted through a basket of green beans, said he will keep coming to the Veggie Van for its novelty and variety.
“You can’t find anything else like this around here,” he said. “It’s a unique experience.”
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056
A closer look
To follow the Veggie Van’s schedule, check Cold Springs Farm on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cold-Springs-Farm-CSA/153618648018658 or Twitter at https://twitter.com/veggievaninfo.