Introducing Vizavi, the solar-powered food cart

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BENNINGTON — Sustainably sourced food, made with sustainably produced power, has arrived in Bennington.

Vizavi Solar Food Cart, operated by Julia Rhode of Shaftsbury, made its debut last weekend, serving crepes, Popsicles, veggie burgers, and salads at the Bennington Farmer's Market on Saturday and at the celebration of the completion of the Bennington Mural Project's first mural on Sunday.

All of the food served from the cart is fresh and locally sourced, and is prepared using energy generated by the solar panels on the cart's roof.

Vizavi, which is a play on the French phrase vis-a-vis, meaning in relation to or with regard to, will have a constantly shifting and evolving menu based on what fresh ingredients she is able to procure.

"It's tricky to find good, fresh things and also keep the prices low for the consumer," said Rhode. Many of her ingredients she grows herself or acquires from local farmers at the Farmer's Market. For some she goes farther afield, but still tries to source through Vermont companies, such as Cabot or King Arthur Flour.

As far as Rhode can tell, she operates the only solar-powered food cart in the state.

"One of the things that appeals to me most about a food cart is that its on wheels, I can go anywhere," she said.

Rhode said she was inspired by a solar food cart she saw on display at SolarFest in Manchester in 2016. Two students from the University of Rhode Island, Justin Bristol and Matthew Fuller, were showing off their Solar Cart Cafe.

"I wanted to increase awareness about local and sustainable food and give people a place to hang out," said Bristol, an environmental and natural resource economics major, in a 2016 interview with his university's College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

Rhode was no stranger to solar power, as she worked for the North Bennington based PowerGuru at the time as a manager and panel installer, and the idea that she, too, could operate a solar-powered food cart began bouncing around her head. Last summer, she reached out to Bristol and Fuller to design her a cart. In preparation, Rhode, who has experience running a bed and breakfast in New York State, began taking courses in Quickbooks and getting all the permitting and inspections necessary to begin operating.

Finally, this May, PowerGuru installed the solar panels on the roof of the cart. After a few tweaks by Bristol and Fuller in June to make sure the cart complied fully with Vermont health standards, and Rhode was ready to begin.

Eventually, Rhode hopes to start Facebook and Instragram accounts that will allow people to follow where the cart will be next, but for now, look for her most weekends at the Bennington Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays at 150 Depot St. in Bennington. She will also be set up at Bennington Potters on County Street during this year's Midnight Madness, on July 19, starting at 7 p.m.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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