Fresh Produce and Savings Served Up by Local Program

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Tompkins Weekly       5-28-18

By Maggie McAden

Without the Healthy Food for All (HFFA) program, Sierra Robinson and Yayoi might not have been able to afford fresh, local, organic produce for their families.

“CSA…it really saved me,” Yayoi said. “I don’t know how I’d do it without CSA and Healthy Food For All. It’s just so wonderful.”

HFFA is a non-profit program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County in partnership with local farms that makes fresh produce accessible to low-income households via subsidized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Farmers initiated HFFA a decade ago to give food-insecure neighbors the opportunity to be nourished by the high-quality fruits and vegetables grown in their community.

Sierra Robinson and her 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, prepare vegetables left over from their CSA share for dinner. Photo by Maggie McAden.

HFFA’s partnership of organic farms will provide 200 families with affordable CSA shares this season, with plans to continue growing that number each year. Participating farms include Full Plate Farm Collective (Stick & Stone Farm, Remembrance Farm, and the Youth Farm), Ithaca Organics, Kestrel Perch Berries, Nook and Cranny Farm, Plowbreak Farm, Six Circles Farm, Sweet Land Farm, TC3 Farm, Tree Gate Farm and West Haven Farm.

Community supported agriculture provides consumers with the opportunity to buy a “share” of a farm’s harvest in advance, and then receive a portion of the crops as they are harvested each week throughout the season. This arrangement offers both consumers and farmers many benefits; for starters, consumers gain access to fresh, quality food for a great value, and farmers get a guaranteed income for the season. CSA shares are typically either in a boxed or free-choice format, meaning that produce is either conveniently pre-packaged for delivery or pick up, or consumers visit the farm or another location to pick out the exact types and amount of produce that they want.

The CSA season is typically 23 weeks during the summer and cost upwards of $500 for the season. Because of HFFA, income-eligible households pay half (or less) of the full price and can pay monthly using SNAP (food stamps).

Sierra Robinson, a single mother of a 6-year-old girl, moved to Ithaca around a year and a half ago for new job opportunities and what she describes as a growing organic farm movement. She is a paralegal and a part-time instructor at a local preschool.

This upcoming summer will be Robinson’s third time receiving a CSA share through HFFA. Because 10 farms participate in HFFA, there are lots of options so people can choose the one that best suits them. Robinson started with one CSA farm, and then switched to another one because it was right across the street from her daughter’s school.

Robinson said that she was shopping at GreeSstar, a local, natural food cooperative market when she saw a flier for HFFA. She then went home and visited the website. “I was blown away by the fact that the organization existed,” she said.

She said that she and other low-income families cannot afford access to the kind of fresh produce CSA without the subsidies that HFFA provides.“I could never afford an organic CSA without that organization,” Robinson said.

Robinson said she estimates that she saves hundreds of dollars a month that she would have spent on fruits and vegetables for her and her daughter prior to the subsidized CSA share she has. She also said that she directly saves $25 a month on her CSA share due to subsidies HFFA provides. She said that she has an even more generous subsidy because she is a single parent.

Yayoi, 44, is also a single mother and lives in West Village with her son, who is a senior in high school. She has participated in HFFA for at least three years. She has a boxed share as it is most convenient for her busy schedule.

Yayoi works in her garden in West Village. She said she gets her vegetables from both her garden and her CSA share. “CSA…it really saved me,” she said. “I don’t know how I’d do it without CSA and Healthy Food For All. It’s just so wonderful.”

She said she has experiences with two farms, but when one took a break she chose another that was close to her home on West Hill. She said HFFA also helps her save money in both direct and indirect ways.

“I know I save a couple of hundred dollars when I use Healthy Food for All for the season,” Yayoi said.

Yayoi also said that she saves even more money through HFFA because she no longer has to buy organic produce from the grocery store—something she said can be very expensive.

“I can’t really quantify it, but I save a whole lot,” Yayoi said. “It’s amazing.”

HFFA also hosts workshops on food preservation, gardening, and home composting, as well as special events to establish a community with CSA subscribers and farmers. “They’re not even just giving it to us,” Robinson said. “They’re supporting us throughout the entire process.”

The application forms for each farm can be found on HFFA’s website. For the application process, Robinson said she filled out an online form for the farm she was interested in having a CSA share with and then mailed in her check. She said that she found the entire process very simple.

“It’s really straight-forward, it’s really easy,” she said. “It’s just basic information, and then you just have to mail in your deposit with that.”

Robinson said that this summer she is switching back to a CSA that offers the free choice option because of their wide selection of food and what she considers one of the most important parts of CSA: the relationships she develops.

“When you go to pick up your food you can sit there and talk to the farmer about what’s going on with the farm and the food and they’re really available,” she said. “And that’s a part of it for me, too…being engaged with the farm and the process.”

Yayoi said she finds that locally sourced agriculture helps form close relationships because of the trust that develops between the farmer and the consumer.

“I know the farmers and their practices, and they don’t do anything irresponsible like large industrial farms might do,” she said.

Robinson said these forged relationships also extend to other subscribers.

“It’s connected me more with the community,” she said. “You tend to run into the same people and make connections and before you know it you have this huge community of friends that you didn’t have before you had the CSA.”

Yayoi said she is now encouraging other people in her community, including her neighbors, to participate in HFFA.

“I just got one neighbor on the program, and she’s so happy about it,” she said. “She’s so excited! She’s an older, retired lady, and she just wants to eat healthy vegetables.”

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