“I got rhubarb!” That was my husband’s voice on the end of my phone calling in from one of his foraging trips to the Shenandoah Valley. We get a lot of our local produce and other goodies for the Farm to Family bus from small family, often Mennonite, farms there.
Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms visits the bus and talks to bus owner Mark Lilly during the FRESH screening for Congress reception at Poste Moderne Brasserie, Washington, DC, May 21, 2010.
Video by Tristen Scheitle; edited by Suzi Miles-Lilly.
“People think of a bus as transportation,” said Zane Kesey, son of Ken Kesey, when speaking of his father’s 1960s odyssey cross-country in a magic school bus. He continued, “No. It’s a platform, a way to get your messages across.”
“Furthur,” the bus that was named from the combination of further and future, led a revolution in the early 60s and changed the consciousness of future generations. If we’re lucky, we eventually find our “furthur” destiny. We eventually find that job, that cause, that passion, that fills our life with joy and satisfaction.
I did just that in June of 2009 and founded Farm to Family. The “Veggie Bus,” as folks have nicknamed it, is a means of transporting food for the people, but in itself, is a vehicle that creates awareness and a way of life. I know it’s changed lives, because people tell me that it has. It’s changed mine, and there has been no looking back since the day I started.
I’m lucky to have found my destiny. After stints in the Marines and Army, college and traveling, after 20 years working in the food industry and getting no real fulfillment from it, I decided that I needed to let the universe know that I wasn’t happy and needed a change. That change finally came after losing my job in May 2009 and with my recent studies at the University of Richmond in disaster science I was primed, and empowered to start my vision. I started Farm to Family.
The idea is simple and direct. I will tell you without hesitation, it can help change the world for the better.
Conceptually, I’ve created a perfect local, sustainable food distribution system that can penetrate any demographic area in any city or town with nutritious, tasty, organic, local food. At the same time, I’m educating people on how it will benefit their health and support their community. I also tell how best to prepare what they purchase and how to make themselves and their family more food secure.
And I do it all from an old 1987 school bus that I bought for $3,500 off Craigslist.com. I retrofitted it with reclaimed lumber from an old barn, added bushel baskets, burlap, and chicken wire and created a mobile farmers market with a country store theme.
I source local products from family, friends or anyone that grows clean food within a 150-mile radius of where I am located in Richmond, VA. I build relationships with local farmers, drive to their farm, load up the bus, and then distribute it into the urban landscape through set routes. I post where I’m going to be, and what I have on the bus, and sometimes a photo on Twitter and Facebook, and then my shoppers come running. Literally. One girl fell and hurt herself running to catch the bus. So I decided she needed a house call.
There are other times I do house calls. We had some pretty bad snowstorms this past winter in Richmond. Everyone was snowbound. But the Veggie Bus has massive snow tires, so off I went powering through the snowdrifts. Neighborhoods would join forces, neighbors would call each other, call me, the post would go on Facebook, and then fresh produce would arrive at their doorstep, in the middle of the blizzard. I would drive up and everyone would come piling out of the houses in their snow boots. The kids would play store on the bus, taking turns weighing produce, and pretending to drive. Everyone would be excited and giddy. And dinner would be delicious, fresh, organic and local.
I also take food stamps, allowing low-income families and seniors, who may otherwise not have access, to buy fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. I also visit schools with the bus, bring small farm animals like chickens and rabbits, hand out free seeds, and teach children about real food. They learn what it is looks and feels like in its natural, fresh from the farm form, and why it’s important they get involved and learn to make wiser choices.
My journey on the bus has just begun, and I eagerly wait every day to see what fresh insight and “furthur” adventures it will bring me, and the people I encounter on my magic “Veggie Bus.”
Mark Lilly is the founder of Farm to Family, a mobile farmer’s market in a retrofitted school bus that delivers fresh , local, organic produce to urban neighborhoods, and also offers CSA memberships in Richmond ,VA. In addition to regular route stops, he also visits schools, retirement homes, and workplaces teaching the importance of fresh, local, sustainable food and encouraging people to support local farmers. In addition to local news, he has been featured on BBC World News, DarynKagan.com and has upcoming features in People and Country Livng magazines.
Mark has a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spent 3 years in the US Marines and 3 in the US Army. He lives in Richmond, VA. You can read more about Mark and Farm to Family at www.farmtofamilyonline.com.
Mark Lilly, “Farm to Family: Beginning,” Huffington Post, April 27, 2010.