By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Buying organic produce can take a big bite out of your wallet, but one Upper West Side food group is providing farm fresh vegetables on the cheap.
The West Harlem Community Supported Agriculture Group, whose members pay for weekly deliveries of organic vegetables from Windflower Farm in Valley Falls, N.Y., is taking food stamps and subsidizing memberships for low-income families.
By working with the Hunger Action Network of New York State and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, the West Harlem CSA sets aside 40 percent of its memberships for people who can't afford the full $495 fee for a weekly produce delivery from June to November.
It offers eight different payment plans to fit a range of income levels and household sizes, said co-coordinator Cynthia Doty.
"The people who join as members are a wonderfully diverse group, ethnically, income-wise, from different neighborhoods," said Doty. "It's very uplifting to be a part of a whole movement."
The West Harlem CSA has about 150 members, many of which live in Morningside Heights and Manhattan Valley. The produce is delivered each week to Broadway Presbyterian Church on West 114th Street and Broadway.
Members who pay for a full "share" receive about 10 to 12 pounds of produce a week for about $22.50, and Windflower Farm gives customers a wide variety, including greens, herbs, root vegetables.
Doty said joining the CSA has changed the way she thinks about food and eating. She's not only learned to cook with new ingredients such as kale and collard greens, but she said she has a new appreciation for the work involved in farming.
The West Harlem CSA takes a yearly trip to visit Windflower Farm, about 40 minutes north of Albany. Some members even help work there.
On one trip Doty helped weed the squash bed.
"When the squash was delivered, I had a whole new appreciation for it," Doty said. "It made it taste better because I was tuned into it. It wasn't just something that you order over the phone."
Aside from vegetables, West Harlem CSA also allows members access to organic fruit, eggs, meat, dairy products, jams and jellies, baked goods — even coffee and fresh-cut flowers.
West Harlem CSA is one of about 22 out of 100 CSAs citywide that accept food stamps, said Paula Lukats, the CSA in NYC program manager for the non-profit Just Food which oversees most CSAs in New York.
"The idea is to allow anyone who wants to be part of a CSA to do so," Lukats said.
"We're working on all kinds of ways to get higher quality food into communities that might not have access to it, and we don't want income to be a reason that people can't join."