The Bard family loves tooling around Columbia on bikes, whether it's to visit the library or attend an event at the lakefront.
It's a healthy way to go, but the family of five noticed that when they arrived at their destinations, the food offerings were not exactly green or clean.
"At the summer concerts at the [Columbia] lakefront, the only food there was the ice cream truck," said Luda Bard. "Unless you bring your own food, there's nothing else to eat."
So Bard and her husband, Aaron, and their children Ammi, Ari and Ellie, always brought their own healthy snacks. Last summer, when a fellow concert-goer jokingly asked if the Bards had brought enough apples for everyone, the family thought, "Why not?"
Combining the need for healthy snacks with their family's love of bicycles and the outdoors, the Bards created the "Fruit Bicycle," a bike that transports fresh, organic fruit around Columbia's open spaces and pathways.
Before any Fruit Bicycle outing, the Bards stock the box with organic fruit from places like Breezy Willow Farm in West Friendship, Trader Joe's and MOM's Organic Market. For $2, customers can buy a freshly washed apple, orange, pear or banana, packed neatly in Fruit Bicycle's cargo box.
"Every fruit sold means one less candy bar on the streets," said Luda Bard, who is also an associate professor of biological sciences at Howard Community College.
The Bards are the only vendors of their kind in Columbia, but they are not alone in their mission.
From Howard County to Baltimore City, vendors are pedaling their bikes — and peddling their goods — to make fresh fruits and vegetables more available in their communities.
"There are a lot of tremendous opportunities out there," said Jason Reed, executive director of the Filbert Street Garden, a community garden, native plant conservation project and education space in Baltimore's Curtis Bay neighborhood.
Curtis Bay is a food desert, meaning its residents don't have easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food, Reed said. To ameliorate the situation, students from Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove run "Tri-Veggie," a tricycle carrying fruits and vegetables grown at Filbert Street Garden, to places throughout Curtis Bay.
Inspired by Baltimore's a-rabbers — the vendors who sell fruits and vegetables from colorful horse-drawn carts — students buy excess food from the community garden, such as peppers, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. Then they sell them for prices either equal to or lower than those in a city grocery store, Reed said.
Residents receive access to healthier foods, and students learn the importance of a healthy lifestyle, he said.
"It's really improving the way [the students] eat," Reed said. "When we first started, many of them were opposed to digging in the dirt. … Now they're outspoken when they see somebody walking by with a hot dog, almost to a fault."
Still, most Americans are not getting enough healthy food in their diets. Studies show just 1 percent of adults and 2 percent of children in the United States are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, said Allison Righter, program officer for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, an academic center examining the relationship between food, diet, environment and public health.
"Fruits and vegetables have the best bang for your buck in terms of vitamin and mineral content," she said. "Something like a banana or orange comes in its own package — nature's perfect package."
Natural sugars found in fruit are also less damaging to overall health than added sugars found in packaged foods like candy and chewy fruit snacks, Righter said.
In addition to natural sugar, she noted, most fruits have fiber. Fiber takes a long time to digest, giving a feeling a fullness. The sugars in processed foods go straight to the bloodstream, causing spikes in blood-sugar levels, Righter said. Over time, this can increase one's risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, she said.
The more opportunities people have to access fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to make healthy choices, she said. A bicycle is a great way to create those opportunities, Righter added.
"It makes a big statement, and it catches people's attention," she said. "It helps make the healthier choice the easy choice because it's there."
The bicycle "mobile market" at Whitelock Community Farm in Baltimore City carries items including kale, strawberries, sweet potatoes and collard greens grown on the farm.
Once a week, a farm employee pedals the bicycle and its tow-behind cart through the Reservoir Hill neighborhood, stopping at places like John Eager Howard Elementary School. Prices vary depending on quantity, but a bunch of carrots and a bunch of kale usually cost $2.50 and $3, respectively, said farm manager Alison Worman.
"Some weeks, we sell a lot," she says. "Other weeks, people weren't as into it."
Bard found the same to be true with the Fruit Bicycle.
"I guess they're afraid of the unknown," she said. "But once they try the fruit, we have a lot of repeat customers."
During a recent hike in Columbia, 4-year-old Josh Harbaugh approached the Fruit Bicycle with two $1 bills in hand.
"So, Josh, what would you like?" Bard asked. "Would you like another red apple today?"
"Yes," Josh replied, handing over his money. In less than two minutes, he ate the apple down to its core.
Although it's gaining in popularity, the Fruit Bicycle has yet to make money. But the Bards hope that in time it will.
"It is only then that we can achieve our goal of others following suit," Luda Bard said. "Our dream is to one day be out on the Fruit Bicycle and encounter other healthy food and green businesses."