Building community health, farm viability, and food equity through Community Supported Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Lael Gerhart
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County
Elizabeth Karabinakis
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County
Monika Roth
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    The current American diet, comprised of many high fat, high sugar and processed foods has been associated with the rise of obesity and cases of Type 2 diabetes. According to a projection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), one in three children born in the United States five years ago are expected to become diabetic in their lifetimes. CDCP estimates that 57% of New York State adults are overweight and 28% of New York high school students are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. The American Diabetes Association reports that the disease may lower the average life expectancy of Americans for the first time in more than a century. These well-documented numbers indicate that as a nation, we are in the midst of a public health crisis. Low-income populations are thought to be at particular risk of becoming overweight and for developing diabetes. Currently, 14% of Tompkins County residents are living below the poverty line. Between 2000 and 2005 the number of meals served by food pantries and soup kitchens in Tompkins County increased by 47.7 % and 109,996 requests for food were made in 2005, with 26% of those for children. These numbers indicate that the amount of Tompkins County residents in need of food assistance has continued to increase. At the same time, between 2000 and 2006 the number of farms in Tompkins County has increased by 35 - much of this due to the increase of alternative market outlets such as direct marketing and Community Supported Agriculture programs. These alternative forms of marketing are crucial components in providing economic viability for small scale sustainable farmers. Many communities throughout the United States have developed programs to connect low-income residents to subsidized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and fresh local produce. Programs vary nationwide and are adapted to fit the unique needs and capabilities of each community. Just Food in NYC has a model that is closely aligned with the program we wish to develop. Constituencies: Farmers –Many farmers recognize the cost of local produce is often prohibitive for community members with limited financial resources. Unfortunately, the farmers themselves are often constrained financially and are not able to reduce the cost of their food for those that cannot afford it. Through participating in our proposed project farmers will connect to community members with limited income and receive additional income by expanding their CSA membership to incorporate subsidized shares for low-income families. Low-income community members – often have a difficult time accessing fresh produce because of lack of financial resources and/or lack of transportation. Although the Ithaca Farmers Market accepts food stamps, the redemption rate at the Ithaca Market is low due to a perception that the food there is too expensive. Low-income community members will be offered fresh local produce at a price they can afford and have the ability to pick up at a convenient location. Unfortunately, people from all income levels are losing the knowledge of how to prepare healthy meals utilizing produce. Our program will help low-income participants gain the skills to incorporate healthy foods into their diets through our programs cooking class.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    During the 2006 growing season Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCETC) initiated a pilot program in partnership with the Full Plate Farm Collective to offer subsidized CSA shares for low-income residents. Financial support was granted from the United Way of Tompkins County, the Ithaca Health Alliance, and Full Plate CSA member donations to subsidize shares. The pilot program provided 18 low-income families access to a variety of fresh local produce for 12 weeks through subsidized CSA shares that were received in conjunction with a free cooking and nutrition class taught by CCETC nutrition educators. Class participants learned how to prepare the vegetables included in their shares and received lessons on nutrition and food safety. Additionally, a childcare nutrition curriculum was developed and 20 children learned about food groups and prepared easy nutritious snacks every week.

    This project will enable us to expand this program, build upon its success, and create a model that can be replicated yearly. In order to expand the program to include additional farmers, offer additional subsidized shares, and ensure program sustainability, we need to build more intentional partnerships with community based organizations such as community centers, churches, and food pantries that work with underserved populations. CCETC does not have direct relationships with populations in need or the staff capacity to act as the sole administrator of a larger program. CCETC will act as a program facilitator and supply overall logistical and program support to farmers and community organizations.

    For the 2007 growing season we will continue our partnership with the Full Plate Collective and collaborate with at least two additional CSA farms. We will connect each participating CSA to a community-based organization that wishes to increase the ability of low-income families and individuals to access to affordable nutritious produce. All share recipients will be able to take the free cooking and nutrition class at CCETC. CCETC will facilitate the connection between farms and community-based organizations and help each community - based organization to develop logistics plans for outreach, fundraising, drop offs, and accounting that can be replicated yearly.

    CCETC has already secured funds to subsidize six shares and anticipates continued support from last year’s partners, the United Way and the Ithaca Health Alliance, for a total of 18 shares. CCETC will work with CSA farms to solicit donations through established CSA membership and with community-based organizations to develop fundraising plans that can be replicated yearly. This year we will raise a minimum of 36 subsidized shares.

    This program will work because we will build upon a successful pilot project and because we will be drawing on the skills and capacities of farmers and community organizations to provide fresh produce to eligible populations in need. CCETC has the capacity to forge these connections, facilitate program development and provide logistical support, provide added value to the program through nutrition education, and has access to funds for subsidized shares. This program will be sustainable because we will work with community organizations and farmers to create a model which can be replicated yearly. Funds are requested to establish the model.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.