Posted on Wed, November 18, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
1 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, Food Justice,
by intern Grace Mitchell
I live in a food desert. It’s unexpected, considering that I live in the consumptive bustling metropolis of New York City where much is available to a person twenty-four hours of each day.
More thoughtfully considered, my food-parched neighborhood isn’t a conundrum; I live in a city gilded in concrete. I don’t live amid green and golden fields of pasture. Not that fields are guarantors of food oases: Nebraska can be quite the food desert, too—driving through the state, one can be hard-pressed to find a farm-fresh commodity suitable for immediate ingestion.
If you visit my house and head next door to Zian Farm, the closest neighborhood bodega, you’ll understand that undoubtedly its name pays homage to Nebraska or one of its neighboring states, where most, if not all, of its food products originated. The store abounds with corn and soy sculptures in the form of food that frighteningly are the only edibles available near my home.
When I visit friends in other parts of the city, I see they aren’t all faced with this same problem. Not only do their neighborhoods have stores that sell more than corn syrup-drenched food imitations, but they also have weekly farmers’ markets and neighborhood CSAs.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become an easy way for consumers—city dwellers and others—to ensure that they will have farm-fresh produce every week throughout a season. At this moment in mid-November, most CSAs are winding down or have already finished their season. It’s a good time to start learning about CSAs in your area and consider how you may want to be involved next year. Having done your research, you’ll be ready when it’s time to sign up in the spring.
CSAs benefit farmers because the consumers pay for their shares at the beginning of the season, so not only do the farmers have a guaranteed market for their food but they also have greater financial security. What if the consumer doesn’t have enough money to pay for her shares up front? Well, the farmers make sure that their shareholders can pay up front.
Some farmers recognize the obvious lopsidedness of this system, and are working to make their food available to a broader range of people. In a neighborhood not too far south of my own, the Bed-Stuy Farm Share CSA has established a system to ensure that people with lower incomes can afford to become members. They offer two share prices, and the higher share price subsidizes the lower; those who cannot pay a season’s worth in one initial chunk establish payment plans that extend throughout the season. Come November, the former group owes no money, and the latter pays their final installment. It works out well for all involved.
Based in Bellingham, Washington, Crystine Goldberg and Brian Campbell (2008 Betsy Lydon Award winners and Terra Madre delegates) have established a food-stamp only CSA. With a diversified business (they also run a seed business) and their creative approach to the restrictions that enable CSAs to accept food stamps, they are able to maintain financial security for themselves while redistributing food to those in underserved communities.
Another model working to serve low-income individuals is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which subsidizes low-income seniors to purchase fresh foods from farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs. A branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the SFMNP receives federal money granted to individual state agencies which distribute the money to low-income seniors. Maine has been especially successful in designing a CSA program, the Maine Senior FarmShare Program, which benefits many people.
Ensuring CSA availability to all income levels is a way to improve nutrition and education—and improve food security in a country with far too many food deserts. Take a look at this list for suggested reading on CSAs, and look here for suggestions about making your CSA available to all income levels. Now, at the end of this CSA season, is the perfect time to start thinking about joining a CSA next year, starting one in your neighborhood, planning how next season will operate for the CSA of which you’re already a member, or making changes in the CSA that you run.