Veggies on the go: Mobile market takes food to the people
JANESVILLE--Have veggies, will travel.
And buckle up the butter, mustard and pork tenderloin, as well.
Tracy Thompson, proprietor of Tracy's Farm Bus, simply hooks her 8-foot, pink and green veggie cart to her vehicle, and off she goes.
Once at her destination—farmers markets, greenhouses and senior apartments, for example—she props open the plywood sides and arranges her baskets of fresh produce and coolers of dairy and frozen meat.
Seniors, some of whom do not have cars, especially appreciate the convenience.
The mobile farm market isn't the only service Thompson offers. She also fills food orders and delivers them to customers' doors.
Residents need only go online, fill their cart with products ranging from meat, vegetables and dairy and choose a delivery date. Thompson leaves the items in a cooler set outside if nobody will be home.
“I put everything up on my online store,” Thompson said. “It's kind of like shopping on Amazon.”
Thompson, 35, said her goal is to connect local customers to area farmers and seasonal fresh foods.
She wants to increase her customers' consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and boost awareness of the importance of family farms.
The service is different from that offered by community-supported agricultural producers, or CSAs, where customers usually receive what the providers choose at a set dollar amount.
“I like the CSAs, and I like to support them,” Thompson said.
“I like the idea of being able to pick what you want.”
Thompson carefully picks her producers, who she said avoid pesticides, antibiotics and harmful chemicals.
“There's a lot of integrity with local producers and food,” Thompson said.
The producers can easily be told if the products fall short.
People who are concerned about their green footprint can be assured her products put on fewer miles than those shipped across the country or farther.
“Here, you're getting stuff that's picked yesterday and today ... and within the county a lot of time,” Thompson said.
“The dollars we spend with them go so much farther than when we spend with corporate business.”
With dairy and meat options included, “I want this to become a one-stop shop for locally grown and produced groceries," she said.
For instance, Thompson gets hand-rolled Amish butter from Richland Center. The producer collects cream from dairies all over the area to ensure high milk fat, “which makes it super creamy,” she said.
Thompson gets her eggs from New Century Farm in Shullsburg, meeting the delivery person in Madison. She gets her mustard, one of her best-selling products, from a place in Lancaster.
Her honey comes from Scott Roberts of Janesville; her chicken, beef and pork from Sorg's Quality Mean and Sausages in Darien; and brats and sausage from the Rackow Family Sausage in Juda.
Local people provide fresh produce, and Thompson grows some of her own, as well.
All processed foods Thompson carries, as well as meat, poultry and dairy, are packaged in inspected facilities.
Thompson likes to explore the area to find the “good stuff” and spread the word to her consumers.
Before revving up her farm bus, Thompson worked as business manager for an area company.
“I learned a lot, but after awhile I found the need to find something more fulfilling,” Thompson said.
Thompson is a chef, loves being around food and was determined her second career would be food-related. She enjoys the farm-market scene.
Thompson attended a food convention several years ago and met a man who did something similar to what she does now.
“I thought it was a great concept,” Thompson said.
“And so I tried it. So far, so good.”
Thompson started her business in November, and online sales got her through the winter.
In an average week, she might deliver five or 10 orders for a total of a few hundred dollars.
But when the weather warms, she takes her show on the road and goes to her customers.
Thompson especially enjoys visiting with senior apartment residents who are sometimes waiting for her when she pulls into their parking lot. Others residents, knowing her schedule, stop by in their cars.
“All the folks are nice and appreciative,” Thompson said.
Thompson especially likes telling her customers where the food comes from and makes sure they are satisfied with the products. She gives people tips on storage and preparation.
They are long days, but afterward “I feel so good,” Thompson said. Sometimes, her husband, Tim, accompanies her.
“The conversations we have with people are about everything, everything under the sun,” she said. “Getting that kind of feedback is very fulfilling.
“I know when I go out I am making some kind of impact,” Thompson said.
The enterprise is a labor of love. Thompson said she doesn't draw a salary from the business, and any profit goes back into the enterprise to expand her offerings.
“I think that's a good test of what the market really wants,” Thompson said.
“For the most part, I just want this to grow organically on its own.”