Saturday, July 20, 2013


Making available nutritious food at affordable cost is a formidable challenge in many countries these days with calorie rich foods flooding the market at ridiculously low prices compared to that of fresh produce. Even in a rich country like the US many reasonably well to do families find it difficult to access fresh produce because of the high ruling prices. Others like India are hopelessly trapped in this quagmire with fresh produce cost, especially that of most fruits being almost 5-10 times higher than cereals! Under these circumstances what will happen to millions of low income families who will have to manage their lives depending more and more on nutritionally unbalanced diets devoid of fresh produce. This is a tragedy of Himalayan proportion considering that nutritional pundits want 50% of the dining plate to contain fruits and vegetables! Against such a background many urban initiatives like kitchen gardens, sky gardens, urban gardens, gorilla gardens, local markets etc provide some solace to the nutrition deprived city dwellers. Latest to arrive is the Just Food movement which is taking deep roots in a city like New York with thousands of high rise apartments each providing shelter to about 500 families. This movement is linking small farmers nearby to the most needy dwellers in each high rise building for supply of fresh produce at affordable cost. Here is a take on this latest initiative for protecting the health of low income city dwellers through Community Supported Agriculture.   
"Just Food in New York City is doing what its name suggests: working to make the food system more just. It does this, first, by making community supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers' markets, and gardens, more accessible and affordable in the city. Second, it helps small farmers survive, and even thrive, in the process. Former Executive Director Ruth Katz said the group grew out of a contradiction. "In New York City, we had these growing soup kitchen lines of people who couldn't get food and, at the same time, nearby farmers going out of business because they couldn't sell their food anywhere. It seemed strange that you couldn't match farmers selling food with people needing food." Just Food connects urban communities interested in bringing CSAs to their neighborhoods with nearby farmers who can truck their goods into the city. They have developed different payment systems to make this food affordable. For example, higher-income members can contribute extra to subsidize other members within their own CSA, or two CSAs from different neighborhoods can be paired so that the members in the higher-income neighborhood pay higher costs and members in the lower-income neighborhood pay lower costs. So far, the organization has helped launch 214 CSA programs throughout New York City's five boroughs, bringing fresh food to an estimated 37,400 people. To stock the CSAs, Just Food partners with farms outside the city, which bring in vegetables, eggs, fruit, grain, meat, and other products. Ruth Katz said, "It can be frustrating because the scale of what we're doing is so small. People say, 'You have to scale up to make a bigger impact.' Well, in this particular case, scaling up would defeat the purpose: farmer-to-consumer relationships that are creative and nimble enough to meet the unique needs of each neighborhood. Their smallness is part of their strength. That being said, we can scale up through replication, rather than super-sizing. "Imagine that every tall building in NYC had a CSA! If one tall building or building complex has 500 families, then only 10% would need to become CSA members to support a small farm. And that 10% would be a lucky, well-fed group."

The prime movers of this movement are really angels on the earth providing socour to thousands of economically hard pressed citizens who are trapped in the suffocating environment cities like New York unable to manage their day to day food requirement in a way conforming to healthy food standards. Though in terms of numbers their achievements may be some what low benefiting hardly a few thousand people, it will have a multiplier effect besides spreading horizontally across the country. Added to this it stands to resurrect the small and marginal farmers who are hounded by big farms with mechanized cultivation system. This is what is needed in a country like India where hundreds of towns and cities depend heavily on arrival of fresh produce from rural areas which are cornered by the middlemen who manipulate the consumer prices by hoarding and restricting supply. India has a strong self help group movement and these NGOs must be harnessed for this noble cause. 


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