Making it easier to find food fresh from the farm


Even if farmland that once covered the borough seems a distant memory — some bucolic lore of yesteryear long since obliterated by urban sprawl — that doesn’t mean Kingsbridge and Riverdale residents can’t dig in to heaping mounds of farm-fresh vegetables for supper tonight.

In fact, Corey Johnson wants them to know those vegetables, and fruits too, are a lot closer than they might think. The city council Speaker is looking to make it easier for those craving kale, squash, apples and grapes to bite into the freshest available. To that end, his office has created what they describe as an interactive farm-to-city food map covering all five boroughs.

Johnson believes many don’t even know there are actually more than 300 locations citywide where they can stock up on food of this caliber, but his map allows users to learn more about each.

“Access to fresh, healthy food should be a human right for everyone living in New York City,” Johnson said, in a release — and not just easy to find, but affordable.

For those who call Riverdale home, there’s the Riverdale community-supported agriculture program. Spuyten Duyvil resident Leslie Boden, a member of Riverdale CSA’s core committee, has enjoyed fresh vegetables from Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, about two hours north of Riverdale, for the last 20 years. Community-supported agriculture is a partnership between a farm, or group of farms, and people looking to eat what the farm produces, Boden said. But it actually helps the farm, too.

“It enables the farm to manage some of the financial demands of farming through that direct partnership and kind of cuts out the middle person,” Boden said.

Farms typically have a big cash outlay before the growing season even starts because they have to buy seed and prepare for crops to flourish. “That historically has been a burden for small farms.”

CSAs like Riverdale’s can help a farm like Hawthorne Valley offset some of those costs. Members pay a fee before anything is harvested, which entitles them to a share of the yield for the entire season, with funds going directly to the farm, Boden said. Then each week during the growing season, the farm delivers that week’s bounty to a place members can pick up their share.

While a number of other farms are involved in Riverdale’s CSA, their main partnership is with Hawthorne Valley. Every Thursday, from around the second week in June until the beginning of November, a truck rumbles into Riverdale from the farm delivering vegetables to Riverdale Neighborhood House on Mosholu Avenue, which has partnered with Riverdale CSA since its inception. There, members collect typically seven to 10 different veggies a week, depending on what’s ripe.

It starts out a little slowly in June, ramps up by August and early September, before tapering off in October.

“But it’s all super-fresh,” Boden said, mostly picked the day before delivery, a far cry from the sad, soggy lettuce shoppers might find wilting in supermarkets.

A basic vegetables share costs $560 for 20 weeks, and provides plenty of food for a family of four that loves a veggie-laden dinner table, Boden said. There’s also a half share option for $320 that could be better for couples. A $215 fruit share can be added, although fruit doesn’t come every week because of the way it grows and ripens.

And while it may not be as vibrant or varied as summer’s offerings, the group’s winter CSA runs from November to May, with a monthly pickup, core committee member Jo Ann Gredell said. It includes a combination of four boxes of vegetables from dozens of upstate farms — but instead of juicy ripe tomatoes, they tend be filled with sturdier offerings like onions, potatoes and kale.

Riverdale CSA isn’t the only game in town when it comes to loading up on plump plums and crunchy carrots. For those less keen on committing to an entire growing season, there are farmers’ markets like the Riverdale Y’s Sunday ritual, which runs from spring through November, on West 237th Street. Standouts include strawberries, peaches, raspberries — and for those seeking something savory, Brussels sprouts on the stalk.

“It’s not about lack of access,” when it comes to fresh produce, co-manager Ai Hirashiki said. “We’re not a ‘food desert.’ It’s really about quality.”

It’s become a routine for Riverdale’s Ayesha Hoda and her kids, including a 3-year-old who craves doughnuts.

He’s allowed a doughnut a week from The Y’s market because it’s made freshand she believes a lot healthier than the doughnuts from a chain store.

But it’s also “important for him to learn about how things are made and where food comes from,” Hoda added. “Like, ‘Oh, farmers actually make this food, from scratch, and then bring it here to sell.’”

And while reasons for wanting to eat more farm-fresh produce probably vary widely from one person to the next, what’s important, Boden said, is knowing they can get it basically in their backyard.

“Our interest really is in making sure that healthy, fresh, sustainably produced food is accessible to as many people as possible,” she said. Community-supported agriculture “encourages people to try eating things and to figure out new ways of preparing things that they might not have just chosen — which is fun — and expands, I think, people’s palate and awareness of what’s available and delicious.”