truck with produce
(BridgeDetroit photo by Quinn Banks)

Powered by the sun, a small, green rickshaw, or tuk tuk, is making its rounds in Detroit – a city where access to fresh food is a challenge for too many residents – providing fresh and locally grown produce at an affordable rate. 

The Veggie Express is a zero emissions grocery store on (three) wheels whose goal is to provide affordable and accessible produce to Detroiters in their own neighborhoods, and to keep more profit in the hands of the farmers. 

On average, farmers receive between 8-14% of profits generated from their produce. But the Veggie Express minimizes packaging, storage and transportation costs, resulting in more money for farmers. It’s a collaboration between Pluck, a food delivery service, and Biliti Electric, a California-based startup that makes electric vehicles. Every week, founder Chening Duker picks up the produce directly from Detroit farms, then stores it and sells it from shelves built into the rickshaw. 

Solar panels on the sides of the vehicle power the motor, which goes up to 22 miles per hour. 

woman putting corn in a bag
The electric-powered Veggie Express is selling produce at the Clement Kern Gardens apartment complex every other week as an 8-week pilot. Residents lined up to buy produce Monday, Aug. 7. (BridgeDetroit photo by Quinn Banks) 

On Monday afternoon the Veggie Express set up inside of the Clement Kern Gardens apartment complex in Corktown to sell produce, nuts, and bread. Two repeat customers from the neighborhood joined others lined up in anticipation of the farm stand opening at noon. 

“I love it,” said Deanna Hinton, who’s lived in the apartment complex for more than two decades. Hinton was there buying cucumbers and other vegetables to make a salad. “They have some nice vegetables,” she said, adding that the rickshaw makes getting vegetables very accessible to her neighbors that can’t go to a market because they don’t have a car or for another reason. 

“It’s cheap too,” said Carmen Otero, a resident of 15 years. “You go to the store, it’s too expensive,” she said. 

At 25 cents for bananas, carrots, lemons, and clementines, 50 cents for potatoes and onions, and $1 for mangoes, the prices at the Veggie Express are much cheaper than typical grocery store prices. 

“I’ve always loved food,” Veggie Express founder Duker told BridgeDetroit, explaining that the idea came about when he was working for a tech company and was interested in platforms that help level the playing field between small and large businesses. 

“Nowhere is the problem biggest as in local farms,” he said. “Local farms are growing this really good product and they just simply cannot compete against grocery stores and large grocers or online grocers,” Duker said. 

He and Biliti Electric were paired through Michigan Central’s Newlab Mobility Studio to create the electric powered rickshaw and introduce an 8-week pilot. Throughout the pilot Duker will adapt the offerings and structure based on what payments people are using, what produce the community wants, and other considerations. On Monday he was giving out $5 vouchers for residents to use at the stand. 

“It’s really exciting because we can actually support everyone in the community in a sustainable way,” Duker said about the Veggie Express. 

In Ann Arbor, a similar model to keep profits in the pockets of farmers has been wildly successful: Argus Farm Stop, a year-round farmers market store that gives 70% of the profits to producers. Since opening in 2014, the store has paid out more than $15 million to local producers and has recently expanded to three locations, all in Ann Arbor. 

Local food is good for the planet too. 

Globally, transportation of food accounts for nearly one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, with higher income countries accounting for a larger share of the emissions. In the United States, produce travels approximately 1,500 miles before reaching the market and is a significant contributor of harmful emissions. 

Duker also has a grocery delivery service, Goodpluck, that sources from approximately 40 local farms, with 100 subscribers. Customers sign up online for a customizable produce basket which gets delivered straight to their door. 

For the Veggie Express, the ultimate goal is to have it in a different neighborhood each day of the week, and possibly add another tuk tuk in the future if the demand is there to serve schools and workplaces as well. The Veggie Express will be back at Clement Kern Gardens Aug. 21. 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great article! I would love to know more about veggie express and other programs/initiatives like this. I’m a senior and so true it’s really hard to fine fresh veggies and a decent price outside of Eastern Market at 3:30 PM when they begin to close.

  2. This is so cool! I could see one in every neighborhood, there’s so many small farms. Maybe they could play cool music that drown out the ice cream trucks.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *