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.”

Indeed, about 14% of Camden County residents and 11% of Burlington County residents don’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.

The Mobile Market’s Facebook page provides market updates, healthy recipes, cooking tips and more. Visit www.facebook.com/VirtuaMobileFarmersMarket , or the program’s webpage at www.virtua.org/MobileMarket.