Not Only Food, Just Food

By Felix Teitelbaum,
GreenLeaf Managing Editor

 

“The problem,” says Lael Gerhart of Cornell Cooperative Extension, “is that healthy food is expensive.”

Though this problem is of national (indeed global) proportions, locally, Gerhart and the Healthy Food for All project are helping to bring food equity to area residents.
The project, which begins its second season this month, has created a partnership between local farmers, GreenStar, the Ithaca Health Alliance, and United Way to provide affordable, healthy foods straight from the farm to local households in need.

Last summer, 18 low-income households received a low-cost weekly “share” of local produce from the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA (community-supported agriculture). Through its weekly subscription program, Full Plate sells local and organic produce from Remembrance, Stick and Stone and Three Swallows Farms. Together with Little Tree Orchards, the collective has just begun to offer a fruit share as well.

This year the program has doubled its efforts to include a more diverse and larger group of thirty-six households and an additional CSA, Early Morning Farm .

“What Do We Do With All this Kale Anyway?”


Active Image In addition to having access to affordable produce, participating families are invited to a series of free classes which aim to help people find easy and yummy ways to prepare the fresh fruits and vegetables. The series also includes, a farm tour, a unit on composting and one called “Making Your Food Dollar Last.” At each session, childcare, which includes health and food education for kids, is provided while the adult classes are in session. At the end of the classes, kids join their parents and together eat the meal they all prepared.

Led by educators Myra McKenney and Karen Robinson, last year’s classes were a great success.

“It was amazing to see these kids make something like carrot-beet pancakes and then eat them,” Gerhart reported. “And they loved them!”

But Why is Healthy Food Expensive?


In the US, the inflation-adjusted prices of fresh fruits and vegetables rose 40 per cent between 1985 and 2000. Over the same period, the price of soft drinks fell 23 per cent. Other processed foods, which contain the least healthy (but abundant) calories, are similarly cheaper than healthy alternatives.

This is not an accident, but the direct result of federal farm policy that pays (mostly corporate) farmers to overproduce a handful of commodities such as soy and corn. These products and their derivatives flood the market and are the leading ingredients (e.g., partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup) of many cheap (and highly caloric) processed foods. It’s no wonder that the nation is in a health crisis and that epidemic obesity, diabetes and heart disease–all illnesses with strong links to diets overly rich in processed fats and sugars–disproportionately afflict the country’s poor.

Cheap corn and soy are also used as animal feeds in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). In addition to producing an overabundance of cheap and unhealthful meats, CAFOs cause environmental destruction and animal cruelty on a grand scale.

In contrast, federal support for vegetable farms (and particularly small farms serving local consumers) is insubstantial. Eating well is not only a matter of know-how, but one of economic opportunity.

People are starting to wake up to the need not only to improve their own diets and support grassroots movements like Healthy Food for All, but also to change public policy to help create equal access to healthy food. According to the Ithaca Journal, Governor Spitzer recently announced the creation of the New York State Council of Food Policy which “will focus on access to healthy, nutritious foods for low-income individuals, particularly children, and on increasing markets for New York state food producers.” Pressure on Congress, from citizens and action groups, is also building to rewrite this year’s Federal Farm Bill to benefit eaters and the public health rather than agribusiness. Farm policy is after all, food policy and, by extension, health policy.

In addition, much international development (as well as the dumping of cheap commodities on foreign markets) has destroyed indigenous food systems, impoverished millions of rural farmers and increased inequities and starvation. In fact, recent statistics show that 50 per cent of the world’s poor and hungry are farmers. To combat these effects, groups like Via Campesina and the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) are championing a policy framework that supports what is being called “Food Sovereignty,” defined as people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through equitable, ecologically sound and sustainable methods. Food Sovereignty is a platform that supports “rural revitalization at a global level based on equitable distribution of farmland and water, farmer control over seeds, and productive small-scale farms supplying consumers with healthy, locally grown food.”

Small farmers here at home, are hurting too.

“Unfortunately,” says Gerhardt, “many of our local farmers actually qualify for assistance through HFFA and programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).”

Healthy Food for All is not only defending the right to healthy foods for local people in need but is also helping area farmers make a living.

Community Supported Shares


This year, thanks to help from the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, the Healthy Food for All is now able to accept food stamps as payment for the participant’s portion of the subsidized shares which amounts to only $32 per month. This has enabled the project to reach out to underserved populations and a broader spectrum of the community.

According to Elizabeth Karabinakis, GreenStar’s Membership Manager, the Co-op is supporting six of the program’s shares with one earmarked for the Greater Ithaca Activity Center’s (GIAC) 50 Served program which provides a free, healthy, hot meal three times a week for youth 13 and under. Grants from the Ithaca Health Alliance and United Way are also making a big difference.

Allied individual donors and community organizations are sharing the balance of the costs. However, to date, the program is only funded to run for three months as it did last year.

It’s really important that CSA members start at the beginning and stay through the season,” says Katie Church who coordinates the Full Plate Collective. We start out eating lots of greens, and when that first tomato is ripe it’s so exciting. Then, when the root vegetables and the real bounty of late summer and fall roll around, and we begin to store food for winter, we’ve participated in the full growing season in partnership–the farmers, the land and the CSA member.

A fundraiser (dubbed Farmegeddon 3) is being held on June 9, with the aim to extend the subsidized share program for the entire season (see page 9 for more information).

Healthy Food for All and its Community Supported Share program are providing a vital link between individual and community health and sustainable local food resources. To lend your support, attend the fundraiser or make a tax-deductible contribution. Please make checks out to CCE CSA Fund and mail them to Lael Gerhart at Cornell Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850. For more information call Lael at 277-2292.

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