Gretchen Ratliff was recently driving on state Route 315 when her cell phone rang.

Gretchen Ratliff was recently driving on state Route 315 when her cell phone rang.

Without glancing to see who the caller was, Ratliff answered and was asked, "Are you the Veggie Van lady?"

Well, yes and no.

Yes, the North Side Health Advisory Committee member spearheaded efforts to bring the produce version of a bookmobile to the Northland area.

No, that's not her title nor her full-time job, although at times it's seemed that way.

At last week's monthly meeting of the advisory group, volunteers working to improve the health of Northland residents and eventually all of the North Side, decided to renew sponsorship of the vegetable-delivery program for another eight weeks past the initial trial period that ends Sept. 8.

Officials with Local Matters, the nonprofit organization that operates the Veggie Van, offered the possibility of re-upping indefinitely, but Ratliff said she was hesitant to make that kind of commitment.

"I would like to do it segmentally," she said.

The program currently offers $12 bags of locally grown produce that would retail for about $30. It has been wildly successful for the weekly stops in the parking lot of the Heritage Day Health Center on East Dublin Granville, but Ratliff said she can't be certain the interest will remain as high once Ohio's harvest season concludes and different fruits and vegetables are brought in from other parts of the country.

As of last week, nearly 500 bags of produce had been purchased since the Veggie Van deliveries began on July 28.

Local Matters officials have said demand increases, not decreases, during the fall and winter months for the mostly organic produce shipped in from out of state.

Ratliff went on to say that she also needs to find some other method for accepting orders, which must be placed eight days in advance of the Thursday afternoon deliveries, beyond her personal cell phone and email account. She admitted she hadn't really "thought things through" when she provided her cell phone number for placing orders.

The 40 to 50 calls a week and 20-plus emails have become something of a burden.

"It's not a huge time commitment but it's very disruptive," Ratliff said.

She went on to say that she would explore ways of possibly setting up, at little or no cost, a voice mailbox where orders could be left and then she or some other members of the group could access them in a less time-consuming manner.

Committee member Dave Cooper recommended continuing the arrangement with Local Matters for an additional eight weeks "to give us time to build a system."

Eight more weeks should also provide an opportunity to see how pleased residents are with the change in vegetables, committee co-chairwoman Sandy LaFollette said.

"I really feel like we've got a good base here," Ratliff said.

A requirement for continuing the program into the fall and winter - an indoor location - has already been secured, she told fellow committee members.

The manager of the PNC Bank branch at Morse and Maize roads has offered to permit use of the lobby and an office for the weekly vegetable pickups.

In an effort to make certain as many people as possible can participate in the Veggie Van program, Ratliff said she is working on getting flyers printed in Spanish and Somali.

Veggie Van sponsors must pay a fee of $50 every time fewer than 50 bags of produce are ordered in advance.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

www.ThisWeekNews.com