Prosperity Gardens gets mobile market
CHAMPAIGN — A bounty of fresh vegetables could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Just look for the bright green bus.
Prosperity Gardens — a nonprofit community gardening operation on Champaign's North First Street that educates and employs school kids — has acquired a used school bus and is turning it into a produce market to take on the road later this summer.
The route for the bus hasn't been set yet, but plans are to stock it and head for lower-income neighborhoods where people don't live within walking distance of a grocery store and tend to buy food from corner or convenience stores, says Nicole Bridges, Prosperity Gardens' executive director.
Those small stores don't have much to offer in the way of a produce aisle, but Bridges says there are people shopping there who want fresh produce if it's available and affordable.
"I'm hopeful that if we can provide a really great variety of produce that is relevant to our customers, we're going to get a really great response," she says.
A produce variety is already growing in the 32 garden beds that make up the organization's mini-urban farm.
Some of what has been planted this spring: broccoli, kale, sweet corn, pumpkins, pickling cucumbers, radishes, onions, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, eggplants, zucchini squash, sweet potatoes, lettuce and many varieties of peppers and tomatoes.
Bridges says she keeps Prosperity Gardens' produce affordable by pricing it at what it would sell for in Aldi grocery stores. Food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program) farmers market program vouchers are also accepted for payment.
The bus was purchased from a farmer with a $2,000 donation and is being painted a bright green color on the outside and reworked on the inside, Bridges says. She hopes to get it on the road by late July or August, but could use some help from the community.
One way people can help is by becoming corporate sponsors of the produce bus: Prosperity Gardens is looking for help to cover insurance, maintenance, fuel and other costs, and will thank its sponsors by displaying their names on the bus, Bridges says.
Another way to help is by being a garden partner. Prosperity Gardens also needs enough of the produce it is growing to supply its own farm stand on North First Street, and likely won't have enough to keep the bus full, Bridges says. But she often gets calls in the late summer from people saying they have extra produce they're looking to donate.
She's hoping to link up with these and other gardeners who think they'll have a surplus, to help supply the bus until Prosperity Gardens can plant on more land.
She's also looking for partners willing to supply parking lots and other locations on which to park the bus for produce sales, since Prosperity Gardens won't be able to use city property for its mobile market, she says.
Want to help? Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.