Pandemic Brings Surge in Demand for Fresh Produce from Farm Truck 912

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Friday, May 15th, 2020

Farm Truck 912, the mobile version of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, has seen a surge in demand during the COVID-19 crisis, with overall sales up by 50 percent in the month of April and a 70 percent increase in SNAP-funded purchases.

This program is supported by the YMCA of Coastal Georgia and Healthy Savannahthrough grants awarded through the Centers for Disease Control’s REACH programto close the gap in health disparities among priority populations in Savannah and Chatham County.

The staff of Farm Truck 912 also has developed a pilot delivery program for older residents who live in four of Savannah’s low-wealth senior housing complexes.

“The truck is still going to all the stops we’ve been going to,” said Jeb Bush, executive director of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. “In general, stops have been super busy. We had a 50 percent increase in the amount of money spent. Part of that is that new customers have found us, and part is our new delivery service for low-wealth seniors. Several people have said they really feel safe purchasing produce in an outside environment with the Farm Truck.”

Due to the pandemic, new regulations are in place: Only staff members, who wear gloves and masks, are allowed to touch the produce, social distancing is maintained and all surfaces are wiped down with disinfectant between stops.

The mobile farmers’ market operates six days a week on a schedule that takes it throughout Chatham County and across all economic strata.

While the truck sells to the general public, it cuts prices in half for SNAP purchases.

The senior delivery program was driven by needs brought on by COVID-19. Low-wealth households have difficulty accessing delivery services from grocery stores, which generally require home internet access and payment via credit card. Farm Truck 912 work with the resident managers at senior housing complexes, who help spread the word and take orders so recipients can choose their produce for delivery.

“Right now we are calling it a pilot program, but our hope is to prove this is a successful means for reaching particularly vulnerable people,” Bush said.

Another program Farm Truck 912 will launch this month, Veggie RX, works with four health providers — J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center, St. Mary’s Clinic, Memorial Health’s children’s clinic and the Chatham County Health Department — to serve low-wealth participants diagnosed at risk for a chronic diet-related disease.

Classes based in the clinics will begin May 14, and as participants leave, they can use their financial incentives to buy the “prescribed” produce at at the 912 Food Farmacy. Those vouchers can be redeemed at the mobile unit or at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market’s Saturday session.

Veggie RX was designed with a large educational component and has been adapted for pandemic safety regulations. Now, many of the class sessions are video-delivered.