‘We all need love’: Farmbus owner spreads holiday cheer in the form of fresh produce to those in need

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va (WRIC) – Henrico’s Farm to Family organization took its mobile farmers market, Farmbus, out on the road Tuesday to spread some holiday cheer in the form of organic, Virginia grown produce.

Farm to Family buys food and products like honey from farmers and local small business owners and sells it in hopes of making locally grown food more popular.

Normally, people can call to schedule the bus to come to their neighborhood, but this week Farmbus driver Mark Lilly decided to switch things up.

“We’re just going to hit some houses and apartments randomly because people don’t know we’re coming,” he said.

He and his team of volunteers surprised people in need, like Fairfield Court resident Kimberly Bell, donating their surplus of food.

“I was blessed that they knocked on my door,” Bell said. “I didn’t even have to come outside. They came to my door and donated me some food,”

Lilly created his current business model in grad school, and it’s helped him deal with the challenges 2020 has presented.

“I designed the whole model of business for that exact scenario, and we just had a record year,” Lilly said.

And his business has grown 50% due to COVID-19. Lilly said he started the market in 2009 with $5,000 in his pocket and a bus he bought off of Craigslist.

“People are spending more time with their kids, getting out in nature, they’re, you know, back to basics kind of thing,” Lilly said. “So, that’s basically all we want, you know, I want people cooking at home, having fun, you know, eating better.”

He’s grown the market to a network of 20 farmers, buying and selling their produce and also local small business items like honey.

“The farmer can sell more stuff if we can sell more stuff and then they can hire more people and they can buy more land and they can grow more food, so we’re creating this resilient, you know, model,” he said.

Lilly told 8News it’s a win-win scenario for farmers and consumers alike.

“We all need help, we all need love,” Bell said. “And we all need to be shown love.”

Lilly said he saw a decline in business before COVID-19 spread because he’s in competition with recipe and meal-kit delivery services.

He’s worried his business may see that decline now that vaccinations are underway but plans to start educating about farming at the store in the near future.

Since the start of the pandemic, Lilly and the volunteers have been making house calls for folks who want to buy produce or are in need of food.

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