New kind of farm share will mean fresh produce for Survival Center

Daily Hampshire Gazette
Rebecca Everett
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Enterprise Farm in Whately has been selling and donating fresh produce to the Northampton Survival Center for over four years. But starting this month, the two organizations are collaborating on a project they say will help keep the Survival Center stocked with local produce from the farm through the winter months and provide fresh, healthy food year-round to families in need.

As part of the farm’s new winter community-supported agriculture program, called “The People’s Share,” people can purchase a CSA share for a few dollars more per week than most CSAs. The extra dollars will go into a fund that will allow the Survival Center to purchase food from Enterprise Farm throughout the winter.

“This is bringing together people who value fresh, local produce and want to see others be able to get it, too,” said Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Northampton Survival Center.

Shareholders will be able to pick their produce, farmers market-style, at a distribution site set up at the Survival Center. Any produce left over will be donated to the center.

“We have a beautiful winter market at the farm and a winter CSA, but those aren’t really reaching people in need,” said Enterprise Farm owner David Jackson. “We want to get produce to people in underserved communities.”

Philip Korman, executive director of the South Deerfield nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, called the People’s Share a “win-win-win” arrangement because it benefits the farm, the shareholders and Survival Center clients.

“We all have to be creative to make sure all members in our community have fresh food,” Korman said. “That’s true because there is a bigger income gap in this country than in the previous decades.”

Developments in recent years to improve access to produce include farmers markets that accept or, with support from donors, even match food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). CISA also provides farm shares to 350 low-income seniors in the area, the Florence Organic Community Garden has a “Hunger Relief Plot” that supplies food for the Survival Center, and many local farms donate produce to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, soup kitchens and other nonprofits, or are involved in programs to get produce to needy children and families in Springfield.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of these creative ideas,” Korman said. “This is forward-thinking.”

Year-round partnership

Jackson said he and Nortonsmith came up with the idea because they wanted to recreate the mutually beneficial relationship they have in the summer.

Starting four years ago, the Survival Center began receiving an annual $2,500 donation from an anonymous donor so the center could purchase CSA shares for its clients. Nortonsmith said staff decided to buy one big share from Enterprise Farm to divide among clients.

The food didn’t stop there, though. Nortonsmith said Enterprise Farm kept donating food on top of the share, including produce left over from farmers markets or seconds that weren’t attractive enough to sell.

But in the winter, when the $2,500 runs out, the produce shelves at the Survival Center are much more bare. When Nortonsmith made an offhand remark last year about how she wished the shelves were full year-round, Jackson started brainstorming ways to make it happen.

“In the winter, we start to run low on produce, but the need of these people doesn’t go away,” Jackson said. “We can still donate some, but we needed to create a model to continue what we do in the summer.”

Jackson said he’s hoping to sell 50 People’s Shares, which come in small, medium or large, at prices ranging from $22 to $42 per week or $308 to $588 for the season from Jan. 30 through May 1. That prices is between $2.50 and $5 more per week than a regular winter share at Enterprise Farm. At that rate, depending on the sizes sold, the People’s Share program could raise between $1,750 to $3,500 for the Survival Center to purchase produce from the farm during the winter. Jackson said that would translate to thousands of pounds of produce.

During the winter, when Enterprise Farm is not able to grow most produce, it purchases mostly organic produce from farms in the Eastern Seaboard’s warmer regions. That food is then sold through winter shares, at winter farmers markets or at the “Food Shed” at the farm.

Jackson said he expects the People’s Share set up will also appeal to people who want to get produce weekly — but would prefer to select their own produce, as they would at a farmers market. Many other CSAs have shareholders pick up a prepackaged share.

Starting a relationship with the Survival Center four years ago was a “turning point” for Enterprise Farm, Jackson said.

“Instead of choosing to go after a high-end niche food market, the thinking was, ‘How could we get produce to people in underserved communities?’” he said.

In addition to donating more food to the Survival Center, the farm two years ago started up its Mobile Market, a refurbished bus that travels to senior centers and other places in Springfield and Somerville to sell produce at up to 50 percent off regular prices. The Mobile Market also accepts SNAP and other state food programs as payment.

Filling the shelves

Nortonsmith said most clients are pleased to see the influx of produce.

“The awareness is growing, not only that local produce tastes and is better for you, but that the sustainability is good for the community and the economy,” she said. “A lot of them also have health issues and dietary restrictions, like maybe they’re trying not to eat canned food, so they are especially excited to see the produce.”

Besides the health benefits, she said the access to produce opens up the world of the “eat local food” movement, which tends to be out of reach of Survival Center clients because locally grown produce can be more expensive than what’s in the grocery store.

Nortonsmith said low-income people are excluded from a lot of things in the community because of what they can and can’t afford, and that can be frustrating.

“This is another place where they were excluded, that now they are included,” she said. “They can appreciate the richness of an heirloom tomato, just like their neighbor or someone writing about food for a newspaper.”