Almost like ice cream trucks, but with much healthier products, three “Veggie Vans” operated Hamilton-based 80 Acres Farms will be taking very fresh produce to various areas of Butler County and elsewhere, starting in the next few weeks.
The goal of 80 Acres, which realizes many people are struggling to feed their families because of unemployment during the COVID-19 economic downturn, is to take its fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods, especially areas that are “food deserts,” served only by convenience stores that don’t offer much healthy food.
The vehicles are decorated with brightly colored animations of vegetables and produce saying silly things, such as “CHARD to resist!”
“We’re definitely hoping to appeal to young children that so often, marketing is candy and sweet snacks and cereals,” said company spokeswoman Rebecca Haders. “So we hope that they can connect with these characters and have the urge to try our vegetables. Because once they taste those tomatoes, they realize it’s a whole different world, and fresh food can taste really good.”
The company has not yet determined what areas the vehicles will visit or when. But executives expect to launch the program in the next few weeks, with those details to follow.
The company recently won a $100,000 grant from a program called “Unreasonable Impact COVID-19 Response,” put together by London-based Barclays and Unreasonable Group. 80 Acres has many ties to Europe through its partner, Infinite Acres, whose U.S. headquarters also is in Hamilton, in the city government tower at High Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The goal is to help companies that are redefining what they do during the pandemic, and that are helping the world at large.
We were very excited when we found out about it, and just really honored to stand up there, virtually, with all those other great companies that are doing a lot of great things in the world,” Haders said.
Kathy Stubblefield, a resident of Hamilton’s East End neighborhood — located south of High Street and east of South Erie Boulevard — said, “I think it’s totally awesome,” when told about the company’s plans. That would be good for the people of her neighborhood, which has many lower-income residents, she said. Stubblefield said she hoped the vans would accept SNAP cards, the program formerly known as Food Stamps.
Haders said she is working on the process of being able to accept SNAP cards. One possible use of the $100,000 grant, she said, is to reduce the cost of the products, which tend to be more expensive than others that are sold in supermarkets.
Mike Zelkind, the CEO and co-founder of 80 Acres Farms, had participated in an event this fall that Unreasonable Group hosted, and when the grants were offered, “we applied, and hoped for the best, and it ended up that we did get chosen for the work we’re doing, and they want to amplify what we’re doing to have a greater impact on our community,” Haders said.
“The grant is a great way for us to start getting physically into more neighborhoods and allowing people to have better access to fresh food,” Haders said. “Because many times, people who are reliant on public transportation, they might be apprehensive right now. A lot of times the nearest store they can walk to, they generally don’t have anything that’s fresh, and so the choices are very limited, and not the healthiest.”
80 Acres still has its program that lets people order its products online and pick them up at its “farm” locations in Hamilton and Cincinnati.
“It’s going well. The Hamilton community has been excited to be able to get it straight from the farm, so we’ll continue that, but we also feel this grant will allow us to reach out to even more communities,” Haders said.
“We’re working on a new app that people can order from that’s a little bit easier to navigate, things like that, and we’ll have to get the word out and let people know where they can find the van, and make it easiest for people to connect with us.
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