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Harlem Farm Share Brings Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Uptown

By Jeff Mays | July 27, 2011 7:19pm
Corbin Hill Road Farm founder Dennis Deryck and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer outside of a new distribution site on West 132 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem.
Corbin Hill Road Farm founder Dennis Deryck and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer outside of a new distribution site on West 132 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — When people taste the collard greens, potatoes or carrots delivered by upstate New York's Corbin Hill Road Farm for the first time, founder Dennis Deryck often recognizes the confused look on people's faces.

"Some people won't like it with the first bite because they've forgotten what fresh produce tastes like. We picked our collard greens yesterday and brought them to Harlem today," Deryck said. "But within a few minutes, they say, 'This is wonderful.'"

Thanks to a new partnership with the Manhattan Borough President's Office, the Harlem Farm Share program, many more residents will have a chance to sample fresh and organic fruit and vegetables.

"Healthy eating has in the past been for people who can afford it," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at West 132nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue — one of the farm's new distribution sites, which doubles as a local Democratic club. "There are poor communities that don't have access to healthy peaches or potatoes."

Fresh fruit and vegetables can be in short supply in Harlem. A 2007 city study found that 2-of-3 stores in East and Central Harlem were bodegas, but only 3 percent carried leafy green vegetables, compared with 20 percent on the Upper East Side.

Located in Schoharie County, Corbin Hill Road Farm operates as a produce distributor by aggregating fruit and vegetables from several upstate farms. By not being aligned with a single farm like traditional community-supported agriculture groups, Deryck said consumers get more variety and shareholders are protected from the risks of dealing with only one farm.

"This is about being able to make things more accessible," said Deryck.

Corbin Hill Road Farm started a couple of years ago when 11 people got together and invested $560,000 to buy it. Seventy percent of the owners are African-American or Latino and more than half are women.

Last year the farm delivered to 281 people in Harlem at 12 distribution sites. This year, it reached 982 people at 17 sites. The goal before the end of the season, which stretches from July to October, is 1,200. By next season, Deryck said he hopes to have 3,000 participants.

Corbin Hill Road Farm also allows participants to pay per week and not have to commit to an entire season. The farm has plans that start at $5 and go up to $12 and $20 per week, feeding anywhere from one to four people. Food stamps may be used to become a shareholder.

"This is about creating a movement of eating well," said Deryck.

The collaboration is part of the Go Green! project from Stringer's office which has included hundreds of tree plantings and the opening of the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence in 2008 whose goal was to reduce asthma hospitalizations by 50 percent in three years.

"This is not about buying fresh produce one day. It's about a lifestyle and linking that lifestyle to our culture," Stringer said.

April Tyler, a Democratic District leader said the farm will host recipe exchanges to link healthy eating to culture.

"It will be a cross-cultural sharing of recipes," Tyler said.

Sara George, a retired insurance worker, said she was excited about getting her hands on some organic tomatoes.

"For less than $20 per week I think it's worth trying out," she said.