UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS — On a recent afternoon, the second floor of the student cafeteria at Bronx Community College was flooded with sunshine and the sharp scent of fresh dill. Green plastic crates filled with apples, shiny purple eggplants and collard greens were lined up on a series of cafeteria tables.
The site is run by Corbin Hill Farm, a Harlem-based organization that operates farm shares in Harlem and the Bronx. But Corbin Hill isn’t your traditional CSA. Its mission is to reach city-dwellers on a budget, those who otherwise might not be able to afford the often pricey cost of a farm share for the summer and fall.
The company, which has run farm shares in Harlem and Hunts Point since its inception in 2010, expanded this summer, partnering with Bronx Community College and Lehman College in Bedford Park, with the intent of bringing affordable, quality produce to cash-strapped college students.
“We wanted to offer a different kind of flexibility,” said founder Dennis Derryck. “Most people don’t have a lot of money these days.”
In most farm shares, members pay an upfront fee — often a hefty one — at the start of the season, in exchange for weekly or biweekly bundles of produce through the summer and fall. But Corbin Hill Farm requires payment just one week in advance, and members have the ability to opt out any time during the season or suspend their membership for a period if they can’t afford it that week, or if they’re out of town and can’t pick up their share.
“What’s great about this is that they join at the time that they need to join,” Derryck said. “It’s a very convenient kind of arrangement.”
The shares at Bronx Community College and Lehman were launched earlier this summer, but Corbin Hill staff says membership numbers jumped this month as students and faculty returned to the campuses for the fall semester.
Charmaine Aleong, a professor of nutrition at Bronx Community College, just signed up. She said she’s been trying to get a farm share or farmers market on the school's campus for years.
“What we want to do is try and find ways to make the students healthier,” she said, as she filled a shopping bag with broccoli and greens. “The more students that come, the better.”
Rafael Figueroa, 27, whose wife is a student at BCC, was picking up the couple's share on a recent Tuesday afternoon. A culinary school graduate who now works in the restaurant industry, Figueroa said they were thrilled to find an affordable option for produce in their north Bronx neighborhood.
"There are supermarkets where I am, but the quality isn't the same at all — you're getting really bottom of the barrel stuff," he said.
Corbin Hill's fruits and vegetables hail from a network of 14 farms in upstate Schoharie County, including Corbin Hill Road Farm, a 95-acre plot that serves as the organization's operational hub. Shares cost $15 a week, or $25 for a larger portion that feeds three or four people.
Because of the programs flexibility, enrollment numbers fluctuate from week to week. Derryck says each site needs about 40 members each week to break even, and it hasn't been a problem meeting that quota so far. They let their farmers know how much produce to pick for each site based on how many members have paid the week before, and all the fruit and vegetables are harvested just a day or two before deliveries.
"It's nice and fresh," said Tina Veale, 54, who signed up for a share at the Lehman College site and takes a bus across the Bronx each Tuesday to pick up her items. "It's worth it."