The neighborhood ice cream truck, its fake calliope music serving as a siren song to children, could be undergoing an extreme makeover.

The neighborhood ice cream truck, its fake calliope music serving as a siren song to children, could be undergoing an extreme makeover.

The "Veggie Van" may be coming to the Northland area this summer.

Michael Jones, executive director of the nonprofit organization Local Matters, which sponsors the mobile farmers market, gave a presentation last week at the monthly meeting of the North Side Health Advisory Committee.

The community group was formed under the direction of Columbus Public Health officials with a goal of promoting healthy lifestyles and rooting out health problems within a specific geographic area of the city. The North Side panel, which will eventually cover that entire sector of Columbus, is initially focusing efforts on the zip codes included in the Northland Community Council's territory.

The goal of Local Matters, which used to be based in Clintonville but has moved offices to Parsons Avenue close to downtown, is to create a healthy community by encouraging people to eat locally grown foods, Jones told the advisory committee members last week.

The organization grew out of the Greater Columbus Foodshed Project, which in 2002 received a $200,000 food security grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The project was part of a collaboration between Ohio Citizen Action, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Denison University, Franklin Park Conservatory and Ohio State University.

One of the means employed by Local Matters of fulfilling its mission, Jones said, was the Veggie Van program, which was launched last year.

Like the ice cream trucks that cruise neighborhood streets seeking youngsters with a sweet tooth and some spare change, the Local Matters vehicle went into communities and set up a sort of roadside farmers market, Jones said.

Jones said that he is going around to various groups throughout Columbus to spread word about Local Matters and how it can help improve access to healthy food in three ways:

The Veggie Van, which delivers pre-ordered bags and fresh fruits and vegetables to designated locations within a community.

Selling the produce grown in community gardens at wholesale prices as a supplement to what is brought in from farmers in the region.

Encouraging existing stores that don't carry fresh fruits and vegetables to set aside space for these items, provided at a wholesale price by Local Matters.

"It's food directly from local farms," Jones said.

Last year's Veggie Van program was only moderately successful, he added, which is why the approach will probably be tweaked this summer by providing pre-packaged fresh produce pre-ordered by recipients.

"If there are things that we can do to support what you're doing, we'd be happy to do it," Jones told committee members, who did not offer their opinion on the matter.

kparks@thisweeknews.com