The VegVan: Mobile Greengrocery for the 21st Century
A fruit and vegetable van isn’t a new idea. Like market gardens, mobile greengrocers were once common across the UK. As recently as 1850 in London there were more than 500 sellers of watercress alone. Mobile sellers even had their own specialist profession, costermongers. The Cultivate VegVan is a little more fully-featured than your average 19th-century costermonger, but the principle is similar – take fresh produce to where people need it. In mainland Europe there is still a tradition of vans stocked with delicious veg serving villages and towns. Even in the UK many communities (including Oxford) are still served by a weekly fish van bringing fresh seafood from the coast.
Recent years have seen a resurgence of the mobile greengrocery in the UK. There are now a number of projects across the country pioneering this approach to supplying fresh produce as an alternative to largescale supermarket retail. So many in fact that at the end of 2011 we were privileged to attend a conference of VegVan projects hosted by Food Co-ops in Manchester. There amongst others we met Herbie, supplying fresh produce to areas with poor food access across Manchester. Other projects of note include the Love Local Food mobile shop in Exeter, which sells a wide range of seasonal food and drink including produce from their partner market garden Shillingford Organics.
There are many hurdles to creating a modern mobile shop that is profitable as well as effective in its aim of supplying fresh, local produce in areas with poor provision, not least street trading restrictions. Nonetheless, such an model does have the advantage of avoiding the rental overheads of fixed retail, as well as the ability to alter times and locations to operate with a high level of flexibility. The VegVan is able to set up at train stations at peak commuter hours, supply parents picking up their kids from school at the end of the day, and offer evening slots in neighbourhoods just before dinnertime. As part of a community-owned social enterprise, Cultivate’s ‘local champion’ volunteers help to ensure that there is sufficient demand and publicity to make the VegVan’s community locations financially viable. The future is mobile!