Photo Credit: Charles Smith
Athens is a locally grown, organic, farm-to-table, food-obsessed town. There are multiple opportunities to shop at a farmers market each week, as well as CSAs and other programs designed to bring that farm and that table a little bit closer together. But eating that way can be pricey and difficult for families and individuals alike who don’t have as much money to devote to food choices—costly in more ways than one.
Collective Harvest is a group of three Athens-area farms that together run a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. Members buy a half or full share and receive a part of the weekly harvest. The partnership helps farmers have the money to buy seeds, equipment and other supplies, as well as bring food to the community, and foster a relationship between community members and the farmers living and working right down the road.
“A CSA is a really wonderful way to help a small farmer get started,” says Mike Farfour, co-owner of Full Moon Farm in Athens.
“I joined the CSA, the half share, this time around, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had a CSA share, and it’s really wonderful. It’s only two weeks in at this point, but it’s really great to have that inspiration to cook with fresh local food,” says Jessica Rothacker, owner of Heirloom Café. The restaurant also buys products directly from Collective Harvest.
Collective Harvest introduced their Fresh Food Fund this spring in an effort to bridge that gap and bring fresh, organically grown vegetables to more people.
“It was important to us, knowing that Athens’ poverty is rampant, and it really is something that is a serious problem, and so we wanted to make sure we covered all of the bases, and [help] low-income families have access to our produce. That was really important to us,” Farfour says.
Here’s how the program works: Individuals or families who have a low yearly income are able to apply to the program through a confidential process. Collective Harvest reviews the applications as they are received and, depending upon how many shares the fund can help support, those who need the assistance the most are accepted to the program.
Currently, members pay for half of their share, and the rest is taken care of through the fund. As word grows and the program expands, Collective Harvest hopes the fund will have the capability of paying for an even greater portion of members’ shares.
“We’re going to move into a new model coming [in] spring 2016 where [there’s] going to be even more incentive. It’s to be a [flat] payment, probably about $50, and then you get the rest of it for free. And our goal is to have 10 members,” Farfour says.
Organizations and community members are welcome to direct interested and qualified potential applicants to Collective Harvest and the fund for more information or to apply. The hope is that the word will get out to those who are interested or in a position to help, and that the program will really make a difference in members’ lives—that it will become a powerful tool to help make fresh food more accessible.
CSA-assistance programs like the Fresh Food Fund are becoming more common not only in Georgia but across the country, as more people see the value in making fresh food available to everyone. Many function through donations as well as grants from foundations and organizations.
The Fresh Food Fund operates through donations from other Collective Harvest CSA members, donations from other interested community members and fundraisers like one held earlier this year at Heirloom.
“We had wanted to do a farm dinner with Collective Harvest for a while, and they had also approached us about doing some sort of a fundraiser, like a percentage night… and we decided to combine the two together,” Rothacker says.
Collective Harvest and Heirloom worked with Community Meat Co. to put on the dinner, which raised enough money to support two and a half families through the Fresh Food Fund. Collective Harvest supplied the vegetables, Community Meat Co. provided the meat, and Heirloom chef Joel Penn created the menu.
“I think the Fresh Food Fund is a really cool idea, and I’m glad we got to help out with it,” Penn says. “I think in the future they will probably be bigger and more successful, and we can figure out ways to maybe raise more money.”
Interested community members don’t have to wait until the next fundraiser or other benefit to support the Fresh Food Fund. Collective Harvest now has a donation button set up so anyone can go to their website and make a donation to the fund, whether or not they’re already a member of the CSA.