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 (Community Supported Agriculture) program that allows a person, or family, to purchase shares of a single farmer's 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 more than 22 supplier farms in five counties, providing produce to 16 stops in Cuyahoga, Lorain and Summit counties.
Creating a direct money link between a farmer and his or her customers keeps our food dollars local and helps foster and maintain regional food providers. The squash or beans you may bring home aren't from Mexico or Chile - 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 Chile or Mexico, or even California, that require days or weeks to arrive at your local market.
Summit County City Fresh Director Christina Wagner said, “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,” said Wagner. “We work with them to transition from conventional growing methods to sustainable, natural methods.”
Wagner said, “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 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|
|The Fresh Stop last year at
Wagner said she is excited about the future of the program, as 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, promote a healthier society overall.
How to participate
A weekly family share (for three to four people) costs $28, a single share (for one to two 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.