There’s a Way to Eat Organic and Not Go Bankrupt

Low-income families can get a weekly supply of organic vegetables for as little as $8 through a program called Community Supported Agriculture that also benefits the farmers. (Photo by Wally Hartshorn, Flickr Creative Commons License)

For many families from low-income neighborhoods in New York City, organic fruits and vegetables are unaffordable.

When Vetilia Encarnación found out about a program through which she could get fresh, pesticide-free produce for her family at reasonable prices, she signed up right away.

The program is called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a collaborative effort of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) where a farmer forms a relationship with the community. The farmer receives higher income and a guaranteed customer base for his products. In exchange, the community receives locally grown organic vegetables at an affordable rate.

“I’ve been part of this program for three years and I’m delighted. For $8 a week I receive enough produce for a family of five. It’s enough for seven days, and these fruits and vegetables are different from what you buy at the supermarket. They’re tastier, fresher and more natural,” said Encarnación, who is registered with the CSA in the Bronx.

The organic items include lettuce, carrots, beets, cilantro, potatoes, pumpkin, apples and pears.

According to Michelle Friedman, spokeswoman for NYCCAH, those interested in the program can register at one of the CSA’s five distribution sites that will operate in the city this summer.

“When you become a member of a CSA, you buy a ‘share’ of a farm for a season. You pay for all of the seasonal produce in advance, and the farmer uses the money to cultivate the crops,” Friedman explained. “In exchange, you receive fresh fruits and vegetables weekly from June through November, a period of 22 weeks.”

Registration is still open. NYCCAH offers a variety of payment options including buying ‘shares’ using food stamps, and the cost depends on each family’s income.

For example, if a member in the Bronx uses food stamps to buy a full share of produce to feed 3-4 people for 22 weeks, he pays $120. If a member’s family income falls below $25,000 a year, the cost is $295, etc. It is also possible to buy half a share, which cuts the price in half.

During the 2012 season, CSA distributed fresh produce to 720 families and more than 2,000 individuals.

Filomena Acevedo, CSA coordinator for the Bronx, which operates out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the Grand Concourse, said that 50 people usually sign up, and the rest are placed on a waiting list. The program has existed in the Bronx for three years.

“We work with farmers located near the city, and they bring us fresh fruits and vegetables every week,” said Acevedo. “Members have to go to the CSA in their borough every Tuesday between 5 and 7 p.m. to pick up their share of the produce. We donate the leftover fruits and vegetables to the church, which lets us use the space,” she explained.

Those who are interested in signing up can make two payments. An initial 10 percent payment is required when submitting the application, and the rest must be paid before June when the CSA begins to distribute the fruits and vegetables. For more information, call (212) 825-0028 or visit nyccah.org.

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