Hoping to interest more urban working-class families in eating Rhode Island-grown fruits and vegetables, the Southside Community Land Trust has launched a "summer produce subscription program." For about $20 a week, Southside will provide a weekly order of fresh fruits and vegetables from its Urban Edge Farm in Cranston. In addition to such staples as green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beets, Southside will grow several Asian vegetables, including Malabar spinach, and 10 varieties of peppers. Customers will pick up their produce at Southside’s City Farm on West Clifford Street, near Rhode Island Hospital, every Tuesday afternoon during the growing season.
Eight other Rhode Island farms have similar programs, known as Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs. Most, however, are based in suburban or rural areas, and appeal to upper middle-income people. By distributing produce in the center of Rhode Island’s largest city, accepting food stamps and charging on a sliding scale, Southside hopes to attract lower-income families. Twenty weeks of produce will cost between $350 and $550.
"We wanted to include more people in the CSA movement," says Urban Edge Farm manager Patrick McNiff. Southside’s vegetables will also be on sale Saturday mornings at the Broad Street Farmers’ Market in Providence and the Pawtuxet Village Farmers’ Market in Cranston.
CSAs are part of a movement to make local farms financially viable, says Kenneth Ayars, chief of the state Division of Agriculture, including farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Rhode Island farms rank first in the country in direct sales to consumers, Ayars adds. That‘s a big boost for farmers who routinely complain that wholesale prices barely allow them to break even.
It also benefits the environment by encouraging farmers to till the land, rather than selling to developers. "As Rhode Island gets more and more crowded, and land development pressures become more and more intense," Ayars explains, "people desire to maintain their connection to open space, farms, and local food."
CSAs help farmers because they receive payment in the spring when they have little income. In addition, some CSAs, including Urban Edge, require customers to perform at least eight hours of labor on the farm.
CSAs also have drawbacks. Some customers complain that their weekly order lacks variety and is dominated by whatever is in season — lettuce in the spring, for example. The desire for variety also causes problems for farmers, explains Diana Kushner, owner of Arcadian Fields in Hope Valley. Although her 55-person CSA provides a third of her income, Kushner says, she may not have one next year. Growing small amounts of numerous crops takes a lot of work, she says, and requires hiring a lot of labor.
"The farmers’ market is as much support [for local farms] as belonging to a CSA," adds Kushner, who sells at the Saturday farmers’ market at Hope High School in Providence. "You just have to bring your pocketbook every time you go."
Below is a list of Rhode Island CSAs. Most charge about $20 per week, and many, including Arcadian and Urban Edge, use no herbicides and pesticides. Weekly share sizes and vegetables vary.
Arcadian Fields, Hope Valley, (401) 539-7043
Bally Machree Farm, Middletown, (401) 849-7037
Casey Farm, Saunderstown, (401) 295-1030
Golden Root, Charlestown, (401) 783-3173)
Greenview Farm, Wakefield, (401) 788-0900
Manic Organic, Portsmouth (401) 480-1403
Moosup River, Greene, (401) 397-7277
Urban Edge Farm, Cranston, (401) 273-9419
Wishing Stone Farm, Little Compton, (401) 635-4274
Issue Date: April 30 - May 6, 2004
Back to the Features table of contents
|© 2000 - 2013 Phoenix Media Communications Group|