Fresh-food truck in West Philly ripe for expansion

PHOTOS: SARA NACHMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Customers wait in line to peruse the fruits and veggies sold by the West Philly Fresh Food Hub on Friday outside the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center.
PHOTOS: SARA NACHMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Customers wait in line to peruse the fruits and veggies sold by the West Philly Fresh Food Hub on Friday outside the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center.
Posted: November 12, 2013

WHEN RYAN KUCK pulls up in front of the Older Adult Sunshine Center in West Philadelphia in his converted bread truck each Wednesday, he's like the ice-cream man on a 95-degree day.

Seniors line up to cradle Kuck's cucumbers, inspect the onions and pore over the potatoes.

"These are people who are used to cooking," said Sandi Ramos, the center's director. "They're used to living off the land. They want to get all the parts and pieces that go in it."

Kuck's truck - better known as the West Philly Fresh Food Hub - gives them the opportunity to do that in an area that he and Ramos consider underserved.

Kuck, 32, an architecture graduate from Penn, started the business five years ago, when he and a ragtag volunteer group were pushing a cart loaded with the collection of fresh produce from community gardens they tended in Mantua and the Belmont section of West Philly.

Eventually, the cart developed enough business for Kuck to purchase a truck and partner with Greensgrow Philadelphia, which operates several farms in the region and provides most of the hub's organic supply.

Kuck, whose official title is Greensgrow West director, said the hub recently bought a second truck, which will enable travel to other areas of the city. A Kickstarter campaign to help retrofit the truck and hire a sixth worker has raised nearly $6,700.

"We get solicitations and people are emailing and calling, and we have to say no," said Kuck, a Belmont resident. "You know, we have this old truck that we don't want to be driving around town. We've been trying to grow very slowly and smartly and making sure we're staying true to our [core customers]."

The truck spends most of its time at 37th Street near Lancaster - the nexus of Powelton Village and University City.

College students occasionally stop by for a piece of fruit or some veggies, but seniors are the core clientele, and understandably so. In addition to the freshness and convenience, the hub accepts produce vouchers from the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA). It offers one other thing that many grocery stores lack: recipe tips and conversation with staffers like Lauren Marsella.

"They give you some odd stuff you don't normally see," said Chris Williams, 66, as his lady friend loaded up a few bags. "The prices are comparable to supermarkets. You might have some trucks - the dollar trucks - that have cheaper stuff, but I don't know, I think this quality is better."

Kuck, who has relied even more on his staff since his wife had twins, said he has had discussions with potential partners for new locations, but they remain up in the air.

"I just have this very innate sense that by opening up to the city at large, we can find those partnerships that can make it exponentially better," he said. "I just know that there's a lot more around the city that we can work with."


On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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