Community Connection: Reaching Low-Income Communities with CSAs in Binghamton

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Binghamton Farm Share is a program in Central New York that aims to bring access to affordable, healthy produce into underserved areas in the city, concentrating on identified food-deserts by using a modified CSA program.  BFS simultaneously provides a unique market for farmers to sell their produce while also helping the local community.  It’s truly a win for everyone.  Launched in 2013 by a unique partnership of community organizations, including Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES), the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition, the United Way of Broome County (UW), Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County (CCE), and the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) Binghamton Farm Share is helping to change eating habits and create community around locally grown produce.

Partnering farms grow, harvest, and package the shares, then transport them to a central location where they are then taken to the distribution sites by Binghamton Farm Share who also does the majority of marketing, staffs distribution sites, deals with customer communication and paperwork, and collects and processes payments. The program operates from June through mid-November, with members allowed to join or drop at any time as long as shares are available.

Working with four local farms Binghamton Farm Share is able to provide a wide array of size options and payment plans so that members can choose the right fit for them. Each farm boasts a distinct feature that differentiates them from the others.  For example, North Windsor Berries includes fruit in their shares and Shared Roots Farm offers members the ability to pick up every other week.  VINES has their own urban farm that provides shares as well.  Local teens are employed on the site each summer as part of a training program.  Urban Farm shares sold out this past season showing community support for urban agriculture and the Summer Youth Program.  Farmers partnering with Binghamton Farm Share hold a strong belief in increasing access to healthy, affordable food. Farmers are actively engaged in shaping the program, including providing input about program structure.

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A happy customer at BFS’ Roosevelt location. Photo courtesy of Kate Miller-Corcoran.

In pursuing the goal to make fresh, healthy produce more affordable and accessible to everyone Binghamton Farm Share offers a 50% discount on shares to members with low-income.  Additionally, different payment options allow members to pay monthly or biweekly if they cannot pay the full season upfront. Grants from the City of Binghamton and United Way subsidize the discount.  Members can also use their SNAP benefits as payment.  50% of our share members fall into the low-income category as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 25% were SNAP eligible.  

A program that started with 40 families in 2013 Binghamton Farm Share has grown to serving over 150 families in the area in 2015 with a retention rate this year of 70%.  Based on the average member household size in 2015 of 2.6, it is estimated nearly 300 people were served, about 125 of those children.

Distribution sites are located at community centers, schools and churches throughout the city.  Binghamton Farm Share has one worksite location which was piloted this past year.  Lourdes Hospital signed on as both a donor and a distribution site where their employees could pick up healthy produce throughout the growing season. Being located at the hospital brought awareness of the program to doctors and other health professionals who can refer patients to the program.

Binghamton Farm Share strives to create community around food and it starts with volunteers.  A group of volunteers, many local to the neighborhoods served, staff the distribution sites, keeping the overhead costs low.  Volunteers are both very enthusiastic about the program and very knowledgeable about the preparation of different vegetables.  They do a fantastic job of creating community at each individual distribution site.  End of season surveys always cite both the friendliness and knowledge of the distribution site staff as well as how members felt they had made new connections with like-minded people in their community.  Many of the volunteer staff were returning volunteers or Binghamton Farm Share members who stepped up to take on the task.  

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Photo courtesy of Kate Miller-Corcoran.

Of course, access to healthy food isn’t enough, members also need to know how to prepare the food that they receive.  Binghamton Farm Share provides members with nutrition education throughout the growing season.  Recipes are provided each week that utilized produce found in the share.  Partner farms also each provide their own newsletter to members which is passed on to members through their preferred method of contact, either via email or in person.  Through the partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, regular sampling and nutrition education is provided at our distribution sites on a rotating basis.  Members are also invited to participate in cooking and preserving classes offered by the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition and VINES.

 

For more information on Binghamton Farm Share, visit www.vinesgardens.org/farmshare or www.facebook.com/BinghamtonFarmShare or contact farmshare@vinesgardens.org.

 

kmc headshotKate Miller-Corcoran grew up on a dairy farm in Windsor, NY, where her family has been farming for 4 generations. She received her BA in English from Penn State University and her Master of Arts in English from SUNY Cortland. Currently, Kate is the Program Coordinator for Binghamton Farm Share.

Change Food® works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet.  Learn more about our new program Plant Eat Share – planting food in public spaces. For free.  Support us today!  #changefood

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