A Grassroots Beginning
In 2005, Brad Masi and Maurice Small, employees of the non-profit organization now known as New Agrarian Center, along with a crew of farmers, volunteers, and OSU educators, organized the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) distribution location in the Clark-Metro neighborhood in Cleveland. A year later, the mission expanded to include 3 distribution locations, or “fresh stops”. Soon after, the program now known as City Fresh expanded to include more than 15 fresh stops throughout Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. Since 2006, City Fresh and its army of volunteers have helped move more than 1.5 million pounds of fresh, naturally-grown, local produce into our urban core.
Bridging the Gap Between Social Justice and the Local Food Movement
More than 400,000 people living in Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties live in what we call “Food Deserts” – whole swaths of our city where grocery stores have closed and left convenience stores and fast food as the only options. The result is a health crisis. One of the most shocking examples of this is the rise of type 2 diabetes. In 1990, there were no documented cases among children. Today, half of all children born to low income families are expected to be diagnosed in their lifetimes with this completely preventable, completely nutrition-related disease. This is the legacy of our broken food system. City Fresh is a direct response to this crisis. The program serves as a community-building catalyst by making fresh, local, organic produce available to these “food desert” neighborhoods at a price low-income residents can afford. Our CSA service sells baskets – or ‘shares’ – of fresh, organic produce grown within 75 miles of downtown Cleveland and delivers them on a weekly basis from June to October to 15+ different pickup locations throughout the region. These delivery points are primarily staffed by volunteers, allowing us to make a small profit margin on the basic weekly share price of $15 (already 25% cheaper than the grocery store!). We then reinvest this back into the organization so that we can offer a discounted share to low income families who need a little help.
It Takes a Village
With just 2 full-time staff members, 20 farmers, and more than 100 volunteers, we have managed to deliver more than 125,000 shares in the last 10 years. And in that time, we’ve strengthened the regional network of farmers and open-sourced our business model, supporting the rise of more than 30 new for-profit CSA programs, several of which launched by our former volunteers.
A Different Kind of CSA
We remain the only CSA working in the food desert that offers sliding-scale pricing and accepts Food Stamps/Ohio Direction. We’re also unique in that we give our ‘shareholders’ (the term we use for our customers) the option of week-to-week ordering. City Fresh pays $0.81 of every shareholder dollar directly to our farmers, compared to the $0.05 – $0.15 paycheck (estimated by the USDA) they receive from our grocery store purchases. In total, City Fresh generates more than $150,000 of income for local farmers each year – dollars which stay in our region, bolstering the health and strength of our communities and our economy.
About the New Agrarian Center (NAC)
The New Agrarian Center is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to building a healthy, sustainable and socially-just local food system in Northeast Ohio. Their work began in 2001 and has touched tens of thousands of people through their on-farm education programs conducted at the George Jones Farm & Nature Preserve and through the City Fresh program by distributing nutritious, locally-grown produce to low-income neighborhoods in the region.
The George Jones Memorial Farm & Nature Preserve
Named after beloved Oberlin College botanist George Jones, the George Jones Memorial Farm & Nature Preserve is a 70 acre research farm and nature preserve inspired by permaculture, a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature. Using techniques that build agricultural systems with as much complexity and diversity as natural ecosystems, the farm is a rich complex of market gardens, learning spaces, naturally designed buildings, and restored wetland, prairie, and woodland habitats. They utilize conventional organic and inventive methods for cultivation. Along with annual row crops, the farm has incorporated perennial systems (perennial rows, food forest, medicine trails), high tunnel hoop houses, rotational systems, fruit and nut cultivation, and maple syrup production. They also house a wide range of livestock at any given time, including cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, horses, ducks, fish, worms, and bees. Considering the fact that the average age of a farmer in the United States is 59 and more than 70% of all farmland is owned by people 65 and older, the George Jones Farm understands that major changes are coming to our food system and they feel it is their responsibility to ensure that those changes are made responsibly. Focused on workforce development, the farm offers educational programs to prepare students to enter the field of agriculture and to inspire young people to consider farming as a career. Located about one mile from downtown Oberlin, the farm has partnered with Oberlin College to accept food waste from campus dining halls and provide local food back to students. They also offer field trips and tours to students and community groups, as well as a fun and educational summer camp program.