Once again, the cost of organic food has come up in a discussion. A friend says a friend of hers lives in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. She has four children, and they can’t afford to eat organic food. My friend asked how they could eat organic on a tight budget.
How to get involved in local food systems anywhere
Before I realized they lived in the city (I thought they lived here in Taos, NM), I told her to find a farm that does work trades. You work one morning a week and receive a CSA share in return. That’s a good chunk of food for a small commitment, and we have several farms here that do this.
I also suggested they offer to glean the fields of area farms. Once crops are done being harvested, the remainder gets tilled into the soil as compost. These plants have a lot of food left on them, but it’s either not enough for the farmer’s needs, or maybe it’s too ripe, or maybe the farmer just needs to make room for the next crop. Either way, a lot of food is left in fields and greenhouses that can be harvested and eaten.
Food in exchange for volunteer hours
In one agricultural community near me, there is a non-profit organization that serves 3 meals a day all year long to anyone in the community. Volunteers from around the country come during growing season and glean the local fields for vegetables that get used in the kitchen. Otherwise, the crops would have been tilled in and wasted.
Some folks donate gleanings to Food Not Bombs, which serves up free meals every Saturday in the middle of our town. I wish more people would do this!
Anyone can contact any farm and ask if they can glean their fields. You’d have to coordinate with the farmer to find out when the harvest is done and how quickly it needs to be gleaned. Farmers can’t always wait, and that’s part of the reason crops get tilled in.
Local food systems in cities
So after explaining all this to my friend, she asks, ‘You can do that in the city?’ I said, ‘Why not?!’ I told her urban farming is getting very common in order to serve the people who have the least access to fresh, organic food.
Most major cities have at least one farm, and some have several. There is a need for this, and it’s finally apparent that something has to be done about it.
Some farms are on rooftops , some are hydroponic, some are outdoors in the soil, and some are entirely in greenhouses. Some are co-operatives owned and worked by members, and some are businesses in the community. No matter the format, they all would love some help!
Local food demand: demand local food
If you live in a food desert where good organic food is not available, ask your grocer to start carrying it. It is demand that creates things like urban farms. If stores need organic food, farms will have to sprout up to provide it. With enough demand for farms, a farmers market can be started. But it all begins with demand.
So ask for what you want. You could end up volunteering on an organic farm in exchange for fresh food!