Organizing Food in NYC
Throughout the year individuals and organizations work to serve the neglected population of New York City that struggles to find affordable and fresh foods. NYC is home to some of the country’s largest food deserts, areas with limited accessibility to fresh and affordable sustenance. Organizations such as the Corbin Hill Food Project work with New Yorkers to ensure that every individual—no matter their social, economic, or geographical location—has the same access to quality produce.
Rethinking the City’s Food
Farm Locations in Upstate New York, map courtesy of Google Inc, used under license.
Founded in 2009 by New School professor Dennis Derryck to eradicate food deserts by supporting local economies and communities, Corbin Hill is reformulating the city’s relationship with food. Defined as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) organization, Corbin Hill enrolls members to buy into the project in order to receive a share of the harvests from participating local farms located primarily with farms located in Schoharie County, 160 miles north of New York City.
The classic model of a CSA encourages members to pay upfront for a season, or even a year, in order to receive their shares, thereby committing to shoulder some of the risks farmers may face. These risks most often involve poor weather, which results in deficient harvests and meager shares. CSA members and farmers collectively struggle to disengage from the dominant food system and to create a self-reliant and self-sustaining foodshed.
Corbin Hill is unique because it acknowledges the reality that many people—especially those in the low-income locales it serves—are unable to fulfill the time commitments and financial obligations that typical CSAs require. Along with allowing members to pay on a week-to-week basis, the organization is also an official Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) organization. Corbin Hill is actively striving to restructure the typical definitions and procedures of community-supported agriculture.
Beyond the Boroughs
Food Justice at The New School, http://vimeo.com/64749712, April 24, 2013, video by The New School.
By promoting agriculture within a local economy, CSAs are reassessing the meaning of social justice to encompass both health and sustainability. Though often misconceived, the term “local” represents a renegotiation of the way individuals understand their relationship and responsibility to place. Rather than relying on the physical distance, “local” often communicates the recognition and implementation of connections between people, places, and food.
Community lies at the center of many CSA organizations and their efforts to incorporate local principles. The reality of creating community, however, is often one of the greatest challenges experienced by CSAs, especially in cities. Many urban CSAs, including Corbin Hill, recognize that they cannot promote and carry out farm-based community-building events or encourage their members to volunteer in the fields.
Corbin Hill has more than twenty delivery locations within the city. By promoting these locations as local gathering points for members, Corbin Hill acknowledges and makes use of the New York neighborhoods and boroughs where communities are often divided. Reaching past geographically or socially defined borders, the organization moderates interactions between community residents who might not otherwise interact.
A Community in the City
Corbin Hill Food Project, New York, NY, September 3, 2014, courtesy of Corbin Hill Food Project via Facebook.
A woman walked into a church in Harlem with an empty backpack. She said her hellos and walked toward a pile of cabbage in a box underneath a large banner that read “Corbin Hill Food Project.” One by one she placed the remaining cabbages in her pack. Slinging it over her back she began sharing the happenings of her week with the site coordinator—what was new since her last delivery. Meanwhile, a young girl collected her share. She picked up a dried cob of popcorn and started explaining how she and her family found a quick way to remove kernels from the cob. Almost immediately the other members asked her to demonstrate her skills on Corbin Hill’s social media.
The Corbin Hill Food Project and its members take great pride in the organization. Their pride does not derive from the fresh and high quality produce they receive, but rather from a mutual sense of belonging to an organization that works diligently to bring together the diverse residents of New York to share in health, sustainability, and food. -C.B.