Friday, July 1, 2011

City Fresh - Bringing Healthy Foods Into Akron

Today I'm going to put something a bit different in my blog space.  I wrote this article for our local Citizen Journalist outlet "The Akronist".  I have blogged here a few times about The City Fresh program and was lucky enough to spend some time chatting with the local Director, Christina Wagner this past week.  She is obviously passionate about that she does and I'm happy to be a part of the City Fresh community. 

Putting fresh, local, sustainably grown vegetables on the table of everyone in our community is the aim of an organization called City Fresh.


City Fresh is a Cuyahoga County nonprofit program of the New Agrarian Center that supports the creation of a sustainable local food system in Northeast Ohio. Founded by Brad Masi, the program was meant to address the needs of those who are most at-risk within our community.

The New Agrarian Center is committed to building a stronger and more sustainable regional food system in Northeast Ohio; a food system that promotes health in the broadest sense of the word: healthy land, healthy communities, healthy individuals, and a healthy economy.

The goal of City Fresh is basically two sided. One is to improve access to fresh, locally grown food for people in urban areas who normally would not have easy access to it, and second, is to increase market share in the city for local farmers who normally could not reach those customers on their own.

Bringing together local farmers and local customers with a network of volunteers, organic farmers, youth and community members, City Fresh provides produce from area farms to neighborhood food centers called “Fresh Stops” throughout their target neighborhoods.

A Fresh share from last Fall
Similar in nature to a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) that allows a person, or family, to purchase shares of a single farmers' garden over the course of a summer, City Fresh simply multiplies the number of farms to create a broad range of produce and then disburses the food based upon the number of people (shares) sold for that week.

City Fresh operates by organizing many farms together to generate a share that is open to anyone wishing to buy in during the summer. Originally working only in Cuyahoga County, City Fresh has grown to over 22 supplier farms in 5 counties, providing produce to 16 stops in Cuyahoga, Lorain and Summit counties.

Creating a direct money link between a farmer and his customers keeps our food dollars local and helps foster and maintain our regional food providers. The squash or beans you may bring home aren't from Mexico or Chili - they're sown and harvested within a 40 mile radius of Akron. Your money goes to support a family close by who is working to maintain a local business rather than a half a world away with portions of each dollar being allocated to distributors, wholesalers and resellers.

The produce in each share travels less than 40 miles and you may be eating corn or lettuce or beans that were on the vine less than 12 hours earlier. Compare that to produce coming from Chili or Mexico, or even California that require days or weeks to arrive at your local market.

Summit County City Fresh Director Christina Wagner tells us “we began in Summit County as a pilot program and have done very well in the past few years. This program is meant to be replicated wherever there is a need and we’ve seen City Fresh programs crop up in cities all across America.”

THE FARM STORY

Not all City Fresh farmers are certified organic, but most do follow organic production standards for sustainable, low-input methods that minimize the use of chemicals. Currently Wagner works with eight to nine farms, most of which have been in the City Fresh program for the entire three years the program has been active in Akron. “We really know our farmers” states Wagner. “We work with them to transition from conventional growing methods to sustainable, natural methods.”

Ms. Wagner says “Farmers understand people are hungry and their job is to grow food to feed those families. And since City Fresh targets its stops in the more under served areas, we feel our farmers are growing for a just cause, not simply for profit.”

Often farmers will also share their extra harvest, or ‘glut’, for distribution into the system at no extra cost to shareholders. This may be items on the verge of over ripeness or a crop item that was simply unexpectedly plentiful. If the bounty cannot be distributed to shareholders, many times it will make its way to neighborhood food pantries or homeless shelters for immediate use.


Share bag from last Fall

LOCAL FRESH STOP

Most of the Fresh Stops are placed into urban food deserts where residents may not have access to fresh produce because stores in their neighborhood simply do not carry fresh fruits and vegetables. (Learn more about the food desert in Akron here.)  Fresh Stops offer weekly “share bags” which include a mix of produce available from local farmers each week. The contents of each bag will vary according to what produce is ready for harvest that week. Spring and early summer shares contain leafy greens, spring onions, garlic and other spring vegetables while summer produce is more varied and plentiful. Shares also may contain special items produced on the farms such as honey, maple syrup or jams and jellies.

The Fresh Stop last year at
Highland Square

In Summit County there are six Fresh Stop locations, each run by local resident volunteers and partnered with a local business that allows the Fresh Stop onto their property. Each Thursday, June 16 through October 27 between 4:30-6:30, volunteers hand out produce to share holders. The stops are found at: Akron Children’s Hospital downtown Akron, North Hill at 841 N. Main St, Cascade Village and Highland Square which are staffed with Americorps volunteers, Southwest Akron at the Ritzman’s Pharmacy at Copley and North Hawkins, and Firestone Park located at Ms. Julie’s Kitchen on South Main Street. A seventh stop was planned in East Akron but they were unable to secure a volunteer at that location this summer.

FUTURE PLANS

Wagner is excited about the future of the program. She plans to expand services to include canning and nutrition classes where possible, provide education in creating and maintaining community and family gardens, and possibly other cooking classes. All of which will help to empower participants to feed their families healthier food and, in turn, promotes a healthier society overall.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

A weekly family share (for 3-4 people) costs $28, a single share (for 1-2 people) is $15. They offer a discount for income-qualifying customers and they accept Ohio Direction Cards, WIC FMNP vouchers and WRAA Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program Vouchers. There are also discounts if you purchase your share for the entire season of 22 weeks up front.

Unlike other CSA programs, City Fresh allows buy-ins for a single week, multiple weeks, or the entire season based upon income available from the participant. To find more information about participating in City Fresh visit them at www.cityfresh.org or email to summitveggies@gmail.com



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