“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Mark Lilly says of his route from being an unemployed military veteran to the head of BusFarm/Farm to Family, a flourishing urban agriculture nonprofit serving DC and Virginia.
Lilly’s journey began in 2009, when he was studying disaster science and emergency management in graduate school at the University of Richmond and learned that the current food system was toxic and unsustainable. Five years later, Lilly’s FarmBus — a retrofitted school bus — now serves as a vehicle for both transporting fresh local food and getting the community engaged in sustainable agriculture.
“It’s a throwback to the days when you could drive around a neighborhood and people would come out of their homes to get fresh food,” Lilly explains.
Every Tuesday, Lilly drives from Richmond, where BusFarm/Farm to Family has an indoor market, farm stand and its own urban farm, to Eastern Market, one of three DC distribution sites for the organization’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Lilly collected this week’s spread of summer squash, okra, blackberries, and even loaves of bread from producers within a 200-mile radius of Richmond and hauled them to site, where 200 CSA members pick up their share every week.
These CSA members not only support the livelihood of BusFarm/Farm to Family and the farmers it works with — they also support their community in ways that they may not even realize. “It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s a win for you, it’s a win for me, it’s a win for the farmers,” many of whom depend on the FarmBus for a good portion of their sales, says Lilly. All in all, he believes, “Joining a CSA is the single best thing you can do for yourself and the community.”
Farm to Family’s education programs are one notable way that the community wins. Lilly and his team bring the FarmBus to schools and other community venues to spread the word about growing sustainably and eating locally. The effects of this up-close interaction with fresh produce are especially powerful in urban settings like DC and Richmond. “You see these little kids come and they’ll be so excited to eat fresh fruit,” says Lilly. “They probably wouldn’t get that otherwise,” says Lilly.
As his operation grows, Lilly plans to forge more connections between farms and families — and to continue to use BusFarm/Farm to Family to drive improvements in the way we eat and live within our communities.
If you see the FarmBus on the Farmers’ Line in Eastern Market DC on Tuesdays, stop by Lilly’s table and learn more about the CSA. It’s not too late to sign up for this season (at a prorated fee) and receive a weekly mix of farm-fresh vegetables, meats, dairy and local pantry items.