On a cloudy October day Kiara Kashuba brought a smile and warm presence with the Mobile Farmer’s Market parked outside the Mid-Columbia Senior Center in The Dalles.
Kashuba, food access coordinator for the Gorge Grown Food Network, travels in a white van to four cities across the region: The Dalles, Cascade Locks, Hood River and Lyle.
The van is special. “Her name is Pippin,” said Kashuba. “The van has been outfitted with a refrigeration unit. I store all of my produce inside and then bring it out here to set it up. I love her, but she can be a little finicky sometimes.”
Produce is sourced from small local farms in the area. Last year produce came from 27 different farms.
“Our organization has been working to support small farmers for years. There’s a pretty tight knit supportive farming community,” said Kashuba. “I support a lot of women, veteran and minority-owned farms. I’d say almost all of our stuff is organic.”
The mobile farmer’s market carries apples, pears, garlic, beets, butternut squash, corn, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, radishes, French baguettes and honey.
Some items sell out, while others may not be as popular, said Kashuba. The items that don’t sell are sold to local restaurants, she said.
Kashuba herself gardens and grows vegetables. She said she understands the effort, patience and commitment it takes to grow food on a larger scale.
“I grow most of my own food too, so that’s been fun. Gardening is such a fun learning experience,” said Kashuba. “You fail a lot but that’s kind of the beauty of it. It helps me appreciate what my farmers do, who I buy from, all the work that goes into it, the labor and love.”
The Mobile Farmer’s Market parks in areas that need vegetables and fruit the most. In 2016, the Columbia Gorge Health Council conducted the Columbia Gorge Regional Community Health Assessment in pursuit of better health for all.
“One of the things the study focused on was food insecurity,” said Kashuba. “Populations that experience higher rates of food insecurity were native Americans, Hispanics, farm workers and seniors. So, I wanted to park next to senior centers to increase their access to fresh food.”
Customers can pay with cash, credit, debit, SNAP EBT with a $5 match, WIC, senior farmer’s market coupons and Veggie RX.
Veggie RX is a prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables, said Kashuba.
“You basically go in for a checkup and they’ll ask if you’re getting enough healthy foods to eat,” said Kashuba. “If you’re not, they’ll prescribe you a packet of veggie prescription vouchers that you can use at farms stands, farmer’s markets and our mobile market.”
Patients are asked two questions which determine if they qualify for Veggie RX. “In the past 12 months, did you worry you’d run out of food before you’re able to get more? In the past 12 months, did you run out of food before you were able to get more?”
Kashuba said the mobile market not only helps communities in need, it brings people together over common ground.
“These markets end up being a pop-up community event where neighbors get to come out, meet each other and talk about food,” said Kashuba. “I get to go around to all these different places and watch communities spring up over a shared food experience. Food is a way to bring people together, bridge some gaps and connect on common ground. I love it!”