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Columbia family starts own two-wheeled fruit vending business

Howard Community CollegeAberdeen Proving Ground

For years, the Bard family has biked everywhere from libraries and farmer's markets to friends' homes and downtown Columbia events.

Luda, Aaron and their children — Ammi, 3, Ari, 7, and Ellie, 9 — love traveling via bike, but the snacks available at most venues they bike to are limited, especially when two of their three children have food allergies, Luda Bard said. So they bring their own healthy food along for the ride.

"At the summer concerts at the [Columbia] lakefront, the only food there was the ice cream truck," she said. "Unless you bring your own food, there's nothing else to eat."

So last summer, when a fellow concert-goer jokingly asked if the Bards brought enough apples for everyone, Luda and Aaron 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.

"It's really a project to get kids excited about being outside," Bard said. "And it represents a lot of ideas that Columbia Association has. Promotion of a healthy lifestyle and promotion of healthy food."

The Bards launched the Fruit Bicycle in March after receiving a state trader's license, a state sales and use tax license, a county peddler's license and a Columbia Association open space license agreement. 

Daniel D'Amore, Columbia Association's division director of open space management, said the concept is a new one for Columbia. 

"It was a surprise because I don't think we've had that kind of request before," he said.

Licenses to use open space typically range from families wanting to host birthday celebrations on Columbia Association property to vendors participating at events like the Fourth of July celebration near Lake Kittamaqundi, D'Amore said.

Aaron Bard, a mechanical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, designed and built the four-compartment box, which is mounted to the back of a steel, Xtracycle cargo bike. 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 the bike's cargo box. The Bards also sell bottled water, Fruit Bicycle T-shirts and Fruit Bicycle bike bells.

While their kids help when they can, it is usually Aaron and Luda Bard who pedal the bike — and peddle the goods.

"People at first are afraid," said Luda Bard, who is also an associate professor of biological sciences at Howard Community College. "I guess they're afraid of the unknown. But once they try the fruit, we have a lot of repeat customers."

Customers like Josh Harbaugh, 4, of Columbia, who approached the Fruit Bicycle during a hike last month with Columbia Families in Nature, a group that organizes family nature outings around Howard County.

"So Josh, what would you like?" Luda Bard asked. "Would you like another red apple today?"

"Yes," Josh replied, handing over two, $1 bills.

In less than two minutes, he ate the apple down to its core.

"I think it's a great thing, especially the way they're doing it as a family affair," said Sean Harbaugh, Josh's dad, who joined Josh and his 6-year-old daughter, Katy, on the outing.

Katy bought a pear, her favorite fruit. Without the Fruit Bicycle, she would have been hungry, she said.

"If people want a snack, they can ask the fruit bike," Katy said.

When Luda Bard and her husband came up with the concept, she said she envisioned children running up to the Fruit Bicycle, just as Josh and Katy did during the Columbia Families in Nature outing.

"It's all about community-building," she said. "And a bicycle is better than a fruit basket."

While it may be popular with the kids, the Fruit Bicycle has yet to make money off fruit sales.

"It will certainly take a long time to make enough on fruit to offset the cost of building the Fruit Bicycle, as well as the licensing feeds," Luda Bard said.

T-shirt sales and bike bell sales may eventually help, she said. Still, the Bards still hope their idea will be profitable – even if it takes a few years.

"It is only then that we can achieve our goal of others following suit," she said. "Our dream is to one day be out on the Fruit Bicycle and encounter other healthy food and green businesses."

This spring and summer, the Fruit Bicycle can be found around the downtown Columbia lakefront and along Columbia's pathways. For more information about its schedule, go to fruitbicycle.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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