The Veggie Truck Farmers Market is revving up for its third season of bringing fresh, locally grown produce to the heart of Harrisburg.
It will kick off with a grand opening at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in its new location in A.L. Williams Park at the corner of Eve and Broad streets.
There will be face painting, hamburgers for sale and live music, and of course, fresh veggies.
“We just want it to be a party for the neighborhood and anybody else who wants to drop by,” said Marsha Jones, director of outreach at St. Luke United Methodist Church.
It will operate from 4:30-7 p.m. every Tuesday through October.
The new location offers the market more visibility to hopefully draw in more people. Last year, the market was behind St. Luke and while it grew, it made more sense to have it in the park, Jones said.
The Veggie Truck took root three years ago after a few medical students moved into Harrisburg. They joined St. Luke’s and brought their friends with them. Their ideas and energy breathed new life into the church’s programs, Jones said.
One medical student, Brett Heimlich, secured an old truck for the church around the same time another student, Laura Harrison, became interested in the mobile food truck movement.
The three loaded fresh vegetables they’d received through Augusta Locally Grown onto the truck and drove around town selling them.
Only they weren’t selling.
“We parked it at the Corner Store (in Harrisburg), and people still didn’t buy vegetables,” Jones said. “So we said we’d give people samples of fresh vegetables. So we sliced the vegetables up.”
That didn’t work, either.
Last year, the group, which had grown into a partnership with Augusta Locally Grown, St. Luke, Good Neighbor Ministries and Harrisburg Family Health Care, decided to try operating a farmer’s market behind St. Luke.
A grant from Wholesome Wave Georgia allowed the market to double EBT dollars.
“Locally-grown, fresh organic produce is very expensive, so it means that people that live here that are on food stamps can get some vegetables that are at a reasonable price, and the farmer gets paid what it’s worth,” Jones said. “So it’s a win/win for everybody.”
Kim Hines of Augusta Locally Grown began offering cooking classes in the church’s kitchen, and volunteers began running a children’s camp through the summer to teach them about health and nutrition.
“The best part of this way, we took children from this neighborhood, they prepared their own breakfast, they prepared their own lunch. At lunch, they could invite family members to join us. The children prepared a healthy meal for their families,” Jones said.
That worked, and the farmers market began to grow.
This year, Sandi Johnson of West End Market & Bakery on Broad Street will join the partnership, offering cooking classes in her commercial kitchen using produce from the market. Jones said she believes the market and the bakery will create a circle that will support both of them.
Jones also hopes the new, more- visible location will help bring in shoppers from other parts of the city – downtown, the Hill area and the medical district – to help support the market financially.
“There’s nothing like food to help create a sense of unity in a community,” Jones said. “It’s a great way for people to express that warm, welcoming, generous spirit. That’s kind of where we are. That’s the Veggie Truck.
“It’s really not just selling vegetables. It’s really trying to figure out how to make a community healthy and safe and inviting.”