Affordable organic food comes to Harlem
By STEPHON JOHNSON
Amsterdam News Staff
“If it’s going to succeed, it has to be a viewed as a right for people to have great, clean, fresh, local food,” said chef Michael B. Ennes, treasurer of the West Harlem Action Network Against Poverty (WHANAP). “If organic food is a privilege of the wealthy, it’s doomed to fail.”
Last Thursday, the West Harlem CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) hosted a meeting at the Broadway Presbyterian Church to present and discuss the upcoming share program—which will bring affordable organic food from upstate farms to Harlem—with local residents. Members of organizations like the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and the United Way participated in the discussion. The West Harlem CSA is a member-run all-volunteer organization. Members are required to work four hours during the season. This usually means helping out for two shifts at the distribution site (Broadway Presbyterian). One can sign up for full-shares (where you’ll pick up new bags of vegetables every week) or half-shares (every other week). What makes these shares affordable is the sliding pay scale. You’re charged according to your income.
“There are people who are in our program who are on food stamps and they could pay as low as $90 in food stamps,” said Ennes. “This is a very good thing because they get the same access and same share as the person paying $480.”
The food will come from Windflower Farm in Easton, N.Y., a small town near Saratoga Springs that’s about a threehour drive from Manhattan. Ted Blomgren, who runs Windflower with his wife, felt honored to embark on a selfless juncture with like-minded people. “This is real fun for us,” said Blomgren. “We look forward to working here in West Harlem.” Blomgren said that as part of the program, he organizes two weekend trips a year to the farm for a behind-thescenes look at the cultivation of the product. “You start to think more about what you’re eating,” said Blomgren. WHANAP assisted in getting this CSA started along with a few other CSAs that called the church home for a few months. It’s all by design, according to Ennes, who’s also the food services, special products and training director for the non-profit organization Broadway Community. “Roxbury Farm is the most expensive CSA in the state,” he said. “But they meet here, and as rent, they leave a ton of great vegetables for us.We have vegetables coming out from everywhere.”
With those vegetables, Ennes provides low-income citizens in Harlem with a pantry that puts the food in reusable and recyclable bags for them to take home. He understands that the rich can access the food whenever they want, but in order to shift the paradigm, all parties must take part. “That [rich-only accessible food] won’t change the world and that won’t clear up pollution,” said Ennes. “That won’t stop diabetes and the accelerating rates of hypertension among everyone, but particularly people of low income.”
Ennes feels it’s mandatory for people to have access to healthy food. “We’re very big on the idea that people of low income need great fresh vegetables too,” he said. “Nutrition education doesn’t mean much without culinary education. You have to know what to do with it.
“And most important is access. If you don’t have the material, what’s the difference?”said Ennes.
Paula Seefeldt, who co-owns Campos, an Italian restaurant in Morningside Heights, expressed excitement at potentially having access to said material. “I’m so supportive of this,” said Seefeldt. “I’m working with [Manhattan Borough President] Scott Stringer’s office to try and write a food charter for New York City.”
Seefeldt continued, “We’re buying produce from other countries and we have great farmers right down the road. We’re finding ways to get it into the city and available to people at a reasonable cost. I think it’s fantastic.”
With recent politics, local and national, articulating the belief that everyone has to pitch in, Ennes thinks it’s high time that those who are well-off economically realize that they don’t exist in a vacuum.
“For the sustainability of the organic movement, they [the rich] need us as much as we [the poor] need them,” he said.