Monday 07.24.2017

Seton Harvest Veggie Van Makes Produce More Accessible

The availability of locally-grown produce has never been better in our area. Permanent market buildings right at the growing sites, seasonal roadside stands with produce from Daviess County, weekly summer farmers’ markets, online Market Wagon, some local produce in area groceries, several vegetable CSAs and literally tons of produce donated to food pantries make it easy for most people to get fresh fruit and vegetables grown right here in southwestern Indiana.

Still, a few people fall through the cracks: those without transportation or the physical ability to wander markets or who won’t eat enough to buy a share or half-share for delivery from a CSA. These are often elderly or inner city residents who in general have limited food resources.

Seton Harvest, the west side farm and CSA sponsored by the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise, has found a way to fill this gap and many other needs with their brand new vegetable van.

 “I did a lot of research on this subject and found a place in Canada that had a vegetable truck, and decided I wanted one,” said Seton Harvest outreach manager Julie Dietz.

“Last year the Daughters of Charity donated a 14-passenger Sprinter van to us, and we modified it into a vegetable van, and it fixes many things we needed to address.”

On the second and last Thursday of the month, the Veggie Van pulls right up to the door at SWIRCA and More on Virginia Street. It gives the members who are already there a chance to purchase chemical-free, locally-grown vegetables for a very reasonable price without making a special trip to a market.

“It’s hard for some of these people to walk on uneven surfaces, or go to the farmers markets in the heat,” said Dietz. “And maybe they won’t eat a whole share from the farm. I was here for a program and I heard somebody say they bought their vegetables in a can because they could eat half now and half later and they would be gone, and that didn’t sit well with me. With the truck, you can buy as much or as little as you want of what you want.”

The van also makes it easier for Seton CSA shareholders in outlying areas to pick up their shares.

“We have a lot of shareholders that are from Newburgh, Lynnville or Boonville, and it’s a 45-minute or longer trip out to where we are,” said Dietz. “Now we have a Tuesday pickup at Epworth Crossing so people from those areas can come pick up their shares closer to home. We even have a compost bucket so they can put their collected vegetable scraps in it just like we do at the farm because we encourage the shareholders to save their scraps so we can compost them.”

The third thing the van can be used for is education. Almost 750 school children visited Seton Harvest last year during the school year, but during winters there isn’t much to see on the farm. Now the van can be brought to schools to conduct programs on farming and vegetables.

Not only schoolchildren will benefit from this educational outreach, however.

“We donate 20 percent of what we harvest, but we have found that many of the people that were receiving the donated produce were intimidated by it,” said Dietz. “They didn’t know how to prepare it or store it, and it was going to waste. The van has a table that can be a work station, and we can do cooking demonstrations. So we can go to the facilities where we donate and say, ‘we have kohlrabi today, or Swiss chard. This is how you clean it, this is how you cook it, this is how you store it.’ Hopefully educating them about the food will encourage them eat more of it.”

On a recent Thursday at SWIRCA, the van displayed colorful boxes of tomatoes, young carrots and beets with the tops still on, long mild bull-horn type peppers, small cabbages, kohlrabi, new red potatoes, multicolored onions, heads of garlic and cucumbers. As a steady stream of folks entered and left the building, many came over to chat about the produce and buy a few pieces.

“It’s very convenient for them, and they really seem to like it,” said Dietz. “The first day I came they totally bought me out of everything I had. Today it’s very, hot but I’ve sold most of everything, especially a lot of tomatoes. Last time I brought kale, and I had one lady tell me later that she’d tried the recipe for kale chips and wanted more kale. I was so excited.”

Today’s vegetable of interest was kohlrabi, a cruciferous vegetable related to cabbage and broccoli, grown for a round, bulblike, juicy stem. As customers shopped, many picked up a bulbous kohlrabi and asked what to do with it.

“We have a lot of people who shred it and put it in cole slaw, or I’ve heard the shareholders talk about slicing it and roasting it with olive oil and seasoning,” explained Dietz. “I chop it up in pretty good-sized chunks and mix it with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar in the fridge until it’s good and cold. I like it raw best. She had a recipe to hand out as well, for simply shredded kohlrabi sauteed with butter. By the time the van packed up, only two kohlrabi remained in the box.

The van also makes stops at the Franklin Street Bazaar on Saturday mornings, if there are enough veggies available to warrant the trip, but that’s far from guaranteed. Seton grows a lot of vegetables, but they are widely distributed.

“We do have 150 shareholders who get their boxes each week, and the Daughters themselves buy 15 shares, and we have to make sure we have enough to donate to the dozen church food pantries, homeless shelters and food banks we give to, and we donate four full shares to SWIRCA to use on their salad bar and in their lunches,” said Dietz. “With what’s left, we can do the truck and go to the farmers markets.”

You can find the Seaton Harvest Vegetable Van at SWIRCA at on the second and last Thursday of the month between 10 a.m. and noon, and on Saturday mornings at the Franklin Street Bazaar, depending on vegetable availability. Vegetables can be purchased with cash or check, but credit cards are not accepted.

Originally published in the Evansville Courier & Press.