Marlton, NJ—When the Virtua Mobile Farmers Market hit the road last spring, no one knew how local residents would respond. Would those who need the program most – families with little access to healthy foods – come out each week to buy deeply discounted fresh produce, right in their own neighborhood? Turns out, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
In fact, 6,761 families have benefitted from the Virtua Mobile Farmers Market in its first seven months – already exceeding the program’s one-year goal of serving 6,000 families. More than 29,575 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been distributed to these families in Burlington and Camden counties since May 2017.
And both kids and adults enjoy seeing the bright green bus, brimming with colorful produce – from apples to bananas, kale to yams.
“We’re thrilled with the community’s enthusiastic response to the Mobile Market,” said Suzanne Ghee, Virtua Assistant Vice President of Business Growth and Community Health Engagement. “The program is doing even more of what we’d hoped: reducing hunger and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables in key communities – which will ultimately improve people’s health.”
The Virtua Mobile Farmers Market visits multiple sites in Camden and Burlington counties year-round – providing fresh fruits and vegetables at deeply discounted prices – to improve access to healthy food. In this photo, staff members give out free turkeys and produce to Camden City residents at Thanksgiving. (Photo provided)
Indeed, about 14% of Camden County residentsand 11% of Burlington County residentsdon’t know where their next meal will come from, Ghee noted. The figure is even higher in impoverished areas like Camden City, she explained.
The Virtua Mobile Farmers Market currently visits seven sites each week, year-round, including locations in Burlington City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Lumberton, Sicklerville,and Westampton.
Shoppers choose their own produce to fill a $2 or $8 bag provided by Virtua. The $2 bag is designed for one or two people; the $8 bag is sized for a family of four or more. Customers who use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) pay half price – so it’s easy to make healthy choices.
The Market also has an educational component: Virtua dietitians travel on the market bus, providing customers with healthy eating tips and information about the connection between good nutrition and reducing chronic conditions — such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
“We’re not aware of any other health system in the country that operates a mobile farmers market of this size and scope,” said Ghee. “We’re very proud and honored to make such a positive impact in our community, outside the walls of Virtua facilities.”
In addition, the program has already expanded by visiting Camden elementary schools and nonprofits – where it has served hundreds of local children. The program provides a free, educational “shopping” experience, featuring kid-friendly nutrition information.
“It’s all part of Virtua’s commitment to improving the health of all area residents,” added Ghee.
“A healthy diet with plenty of produce every day can help prevent or reduce serious health issues, like type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and many types of cancer.”
Whole Foods Market is the exclusive produce vendor for the Virtua Mobile Farmers Market. The program is funded primarily by the Virtua Foundation, the fundraising arm of the nonprofit Virtua health system. The Virtua Foundation works closely with generous donors to raise vital funds that support Virtua’s patient care, health education, technology and community outreach.
Here is more year-end data from the Virtua Mobile Farmers Market program:
Customer Preferences and Pricing:
The most popular purchase is the large bag of produce, which sells for $8 and typically contains 17-18 pieces of produce. Customers who present a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) EBT card receive an additional 50-percent discount, for a total cost of $4 for a large bag of produce.
Customer favorites include carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and grapes.
The Market sells below wholesale price, discounting by an average of 35-40 percent of retail prices.
Shopper Demographics/Survey Data:
The Market team partners with graduate students to collect survey information at every site to measure the program’s impact.
40 percent of Mobile Farmers Market shoppers report that they worry about where their next meal will come from.
30-40 percent of shoppers use SNAP cards.
Women and children make up nearly 90 percent of Market patrons.
Senior citizens make up a large proportion of the customer base.
Mobile Farmers Market Locations:
Current Weekly Sites:
Camden: Roosevelt Plaza Park
Burlington City Public Works Department
Lumberton: Virtua Center for Women
Sicklerville: Winslow Shopping Center
Westampton: Woodlane Square Shopping Center
Cherry Hill: Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care
A Voorhees daycare center – for the children only
School and Nonprofit Visits:
The Mobile Farmers Market team makes regular stops at local elementary schools and nonprofits, providing free shopping experiences to the students. The market has visited more than 12 schools/nonprofits to date, including:
St. Cecilia School (Pennsauken)
Camden Dreams (Camden)
Virtua CASTLE (Camden)
Freedom Prep Charter School (Camden)
Boys and Girls Club of Camden County (Camden)
Lifting Up Camden’s Youth (Camden)
Veterans Memorial Family School (Camden)
Cooper’s Poynt Elementary School (Camden)
As one of New Jersey’s largest, non-profit health systems, Virtua provides comprehensive health care services to achieve its mission to help people be well, get well and stay well. Virtua provides services through Virtua Medical Group with 500 physicians and other clinicians, and at its urgent care centers, hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, health and wellness centers, fitness centers, home health services, long-term care and rehabilitation centers, and paramedic program.
A leader in maternal and child health services, Virtua delivers nearly 8,000 babies a year. It provides health services to 1,500 businesses, and participates in Virtua Physician Partners, a clinically integrated network of 1,000 physicians and other clinicians. Virtua is affiliated with Penn Medicine for cancer and neuroscience and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for pediatrics. It employs over 9,000 and has been honored as the #1 Best Place to Work in the Delaware Valley many times since 2007.
It is the recipient of a 4-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for quality of care, and its hospitals earned straight A’s in patient safety by The Leapfrog Group and the 2016 Patient Safety Award from Healthgrades. U.S. News and World Report ranked Virtua’s Mount Holly and Voorhees hospitals as High Performing Hospitals and Voorhees as a Best Regional Hospital. Virtua is also the recipient of the Consumer Choice Award from the National Research Corporation. For more information, visit www.virtua.org or www.virtuabroadcastnetwork.org.