Fresh produce on chopping block

Farm to Families program at NKCDC location no longer in operation, other options being explored

Farewell to weekly fresh produce, for now: (From left) NKCDC staff Tess Donnie, Karla Rodriguez and Ellie Vamos hand out produce boxes at the final NKCDC Farm to Families pick-up. NKCDC is working to bring other affordable food options to the area. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

Each week for approximately seven years, residents in the River Wards had the opportunity to participate in an affordable farm share program.

That opportunity ceased to exist as of last Thursday.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation had served as a partner for the St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children Farm to Families initiative, with a pick-up location first at its Garden Center on Frankford Avenue and most recently at its new headquarters, Orinoka Civic House, 2771 Ruth St.

Each week, residents were able to place an order for a large or small box of produce, for less than $15.

Cash, credit and SNAP benefits were all accepted forms of payment, and any individual could participate, regardless of his or her income level.

Box contents would vary on a weekly basis based on the season and all came from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

The NKCDC program served nearly 1,800 customers, with approximately 14,500 boxes of produce being distributed during its seven-year stint.

Funding, specifically lack of, led to the program being terminated at the NKCDC location, according to Andrew Goodman, community engagement director at NKCDC.

“Funding cuts to the host sites is what led to our site to close,” he said.

NKCDC had been funded by St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children to host, staff and promote Farm to Families, according to Goodman.

Goodman directed specific funding questions to Jamiliyah Foster, program director for Farm to Families at St. Christopher’s.

“St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children is in the process of restructuring the Farm to Families program to focus on distribution sites in locations with more health-related programing,” Foster said. “The Farm to Families program has been hosted by NKCDC for over five years, and SCFC is committed to working with NKCDC to ensure that participants can access the program at one of our other sites.”

Foster said SCFC “will also be looking to identify other sites that cover the NKCDC service area.”

In the meantime, NKCDC will look at other options to provide access to healthy and affordable food.

“We know that in Kensington, especially in the northern section of our service area, one priority need is better access to healthy and affordable foods,” Goodman said. “We will continue to be an information hub and provide referrals to these offerings that we know of in the community while also reaching out to partners and providers throughout the city to see what else we can do to bring more healthy and affordable food to Kensington, whether that is NKCDC administering another food program or providing support to a complementary partner organization.”

Karla Rodriguez, NKCDC Farm to Families coordinator, knows firsthand the impact such a program can have, being a participant herself.

“I was searching for something affordable,” she said. “I noticed the taste difference. I had been dealing with some digestive issues, and I noticed when I did cook fresher and local, it was less of an irritation.”

Rodriguez’s experience, and all those the program impacted, is not something NKCDC took lightly.

“The impact of the Farm to Families program at NKCDC stretched well beyond access to fruits and vegetables. Food brings people together, and this proved very true for Farm to Families, as it served as a portal for hundreds of neighbors who didn’t know NKCDC previously,” Goodman said. “We are grateful for this opportunity and hope we can continue to serve neighbors in new ways moving forward.”

NKCDC used several outlets over the past month to announce the program would no longer operate, and the final pick-up was low-key, with a small spread of hummus, pita, and naan.

And, there was literature on getting involved in the community, including a small flier about Kensington Farms, a space for residents to plant their own vegetables and flowers, an indication of the possibilities that might crop up to fill the void left by the produce box initiative.

The St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children Farm to Families initiative includes several other locations.

Friday, noon to 3 p.m. pick-up:

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, 3601 A St., Center for the Urban Child. 215–910–2901 or F2F.schchildren@gmail.com to register.

Monday, 2 to 6 p.m. pick-up:

Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services of Drexel University. 850 N. 11th Street — 1st Floor Lobby, 215.970.1151 or farm2families@drexel.edu to register.

Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. pick-up:

Temple University Hospital — Tioga Lobby, 3401 N. Broad St., 215.970.3182 or f2ftemple@gmail.com to register.

St. Mary Medical Center, 1201 Langhorne-Newtown Road, Langhorne, 215–710–2000 to register.

St. Mary Medical Center at Queen of the Universe Parish, 2477 Trenton Road, Levittown, 215–710–4163 to register.

St. Mary Medical Center at Our Lady of Fatima School Center, 2913 Street Road, Bensalem, 215–710–4163 to register.