Sunday, July 1, 2012

Healthy food at an affordable price for all

Community garden in Louisville
Fresh Stop is a community-supported agricultural program run by the non-profit organization New Roots in Louisville, Kentucky. New Roots's mission is to build a just and thriving food system in the Ohio River Valley region. They do this through their Fresh Stop Model, which trains leaders residing in low-income neighborhoods to provide their neighbors with access to fresh, local and healthy food. The head of the project, Karyn Moskowitz, organizes for food justice.

What is the New Roots Fresh Stop model like?
Karyn: We adopted the model from an organization in Cleveland, called City Fresh, and tailored it to our own needs. The basic concept is that families, based on their income, pool their money and pay an amount of $12-$25 one week in advance to local farmers and in return receive fresh, healthy vegetables. Families decide for themselves how much they can afford to pay, and no one is turned away for lack of money or food stamps. Pooling their money enables the families to pay wholesale prices, which makes the food affordable for everyone. Farmers have not been enthusiastic to start or maintain farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods in Louisville. By pooling their money and guaranteeing payment, risk is eliminated for both eaters and farmers. Farmers simply drop the produce off and volunteers do the rest. Fresh Stops average 50-80 families per week or every other week. Families don't know in advance what vegetables will be delivered, but are assured of a beautiful bounty of whatever is in season. In 2012, New Roots has three churches who contribute their buildings to be the fresh food drop point. Volunteers come to the site to meet the farmers' trucks and to count and sort the produce. Each family gets an equal amount of what is delivered, i.e., two eggplants, five tomatoes, etc.

What is the self-interest of the farmers and the community?
Karyn: Farmers can be sure that their products will be sold that week, while community members receive fresh vegetables at an affordable price. But it needs a lot of organizing to make the supply and the demand meet. Earlier, farmers tried to set up markets in low-income neighborhoods, with little success. It was never a viable business as the demand was always too low. Therefore, we had to bargain with the farmers on the amount of money they want to see in advance which would make their participation worth it. The challenge for low-income people is to switch to buying fresh food which needs to be cooked from scratch. Prices are often lower than at supermarkets and much of the produce is chemical free and picked that day, so the taste is delicious. The $12 low-income shares must be balanced with a small percentage of higher-income $25 shares so that there is enough money to collectively buy a large amount of produce. Families only have to dedicate themselves to paying one week in advance, unlike other community-supported agricultural projects which require a large payment at the beginning of the growing season.

What kind of programs are linked to the Fresh Stop model?
Karyn: We hold community workshops about food sovereignty based on the popular education model, distribute recipes in the market, organize cooking workshops, and inform community members in a newsletter. Community members are involved in work groups: folks are responsible to put together the newsletter, collect the weekly amount of money, organize educational workshops or do the media work. I extend the network with new neighborhoods by interviewing several people who know the community well, like a pastor, and I follow up on their contacts and inform people about the program. New Roots is more than the distribution of healthy food. We want to recreate the food system, we want to create a food community.

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