Fresh Direct: From the Farm to Grand Street

They’re the culinary buzz words of 2009: fresh, local, sustainable. Super star chef Alice Waters has made it her personal crusade. First Lady Michelle Obama did her part — setting up a garden at the White House to grow 55 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Thanks to a group known as “Just Food,” what’s known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is taking off in New York.

Last night, one of Just Food’s affiliates, the Grand Street CSA, kicked off its second season. They’re sold out for this summer, prepared to distribute produce straight from the Woodbridge Farm in Connecticut every Tuesday night through the first week of November.

Here’s how it works. Just Food connects farms within striking distance of New York City with community groups interested in providing their neighborhoods with fresh, organically grown food. During the winter, each farmer sells shares in that year’s harvest to members of the CSA. That gives the farms the money they need to grow and harvest their crops, not to mention providing the farmers with a living wage. In the case of the Grand Street CSA, a full share costs $590 for the season or just under $26 per week.

Grand Street CSA organizer Meghan Joye told us all 85 shares sold out before the season even began, but they do have a waiting list for next year. In Manhattan alone, there are about 35 CSA’s. Others in the area include the Bluestocking CSA on Allen Street, the Stanton Street CSA in Sara D. Roosevelt Park and the Sixth Street CSA. You can see a full list of New York City locations on Just Food’s web site.

The farms deliver whatever crops are ready to harvest. Yesterday, there was a variety of lettuces, radishes, kale, collard greens, bok choy, mint and dill. Joye said, as the summer progresses, the selection will become much more diverse.

Part of the fun is figuring out what to do with ingredients you might not have selected in the grocery store. The CSA plans to have a nutritionist on hand in the weeks ahead to offer advice to members.

In New York City, access to fresh food varies greatly by neighborhood. A study conducted by the city last year found that around three million New Yorkers, mostly in the Bronx, Queens and central Brooklyn, are under served by grocery stores offering fresh food. The Bloomberg administration has proposed a program of zoning changes and financial incentives to entice grocery stores to open where they’re needed the most.

Many of the residents on the Lower East Side would argue, they too, don’t have access to farm fresh fruits and vegetables. There is Whole Foods on the Bowery — so expensive it is out of reach for many families in the neighborhood.

Joye says there are four half shares available in the Grand Street CSA to low income families. A half share costs $340. They donate any food that’s not taken by the end of the evening to the food pantry run by Our Lady of Sorrows Church.

For more information, check out the Grand Street CSA’s web site.