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NYCCAH’s Long Island City CSA in the news

August 24, 2010

In today’s NY Daily News:

FRUITS AND veggies fresh off the farm are not just for yuppies and foodies.

That’s the philosophy of a new Community Supported Agriculture startup that will offer its produce to residents using food stamps in Long Island City and Astoria.

Holton Farms, based in Vermont, brings its goods to city residents who sign up for an annual membership and pick up produce at dropoff points in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

But requiring members to fork over at least $250 upfront makes the service inaccessible to low-income residents – a feature of the Community Supported Agriculture groups that critics often point to as being elitist.

That’s why Jurrien Swarts, a Long Island City resident who co-owns Holton Farms, is starting a farm truck that will accept food stamps and offer a 20% discount on fruits and vegetables to low-income buyers.

“We want to be known by people in these neighborhoods as someone who cares about them,” said Swarts, 34.

The company got approval for a mobile Electronic Benefits Transfer terminal at the end of last month and is now offering its farm-fresh foods to needier residents at all of its stops.

“I’m hesitant to take a family’s money in advance when they are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “We want to figure out how to make a real meaningful impact. We want to become a member of these communities.”

For some food activists in Queens, making Community Supported Agriculture programs affordable is fundamental to the mission.

“It’s a common misconception that CSAs are expensive,” said Heather Crosetto, a coordinator with the Long Island City CSA, which has 40% low-income membership and 15% food stamp users.

“CSAs shouldn’t be seen as an exclusive club,” added Carrette Perkins, director of programs for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which partners with the CSA in Long Island City so that it can accept food stamps.

Perkins said the model works – farmers can sustain their businesses and low-income residents in Queens can buy healthful food.

“It’s a supportive circle,” she said.

“It’s a classic kind of win-win in my mind,” Swarts said of his operation.

Sandra Grand, a mother of three, drives weekly from Queens Village to the Long Island City CSA to get the affordable farm produce.

“It’s very cost-effective, and the food’s a lot fresher,” said Grand, 40. “It’s kind of a trek, but it’s worth it.”

For CSA members in Long Island City who use food stamps to purchase shares, it really is a bargain: A full vegetable share is $6.82 per week.

Anahy Antara, a Long Island City CSA member who recently lost a job and now uses food stamps, said the service is a blessing.

“Right now is a tough time,” said Antara, 55, who lives with her husband in the neighborhood. “For me, it’s an amazing program.”

Antara has been able to buy high-quality produce this summer, despite her financial troubles. “This really opened up a world of food to me,” she said.

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