Tackling Food Justice at Corbin Hill Farm

Photo courtesy of the Corbin Hill Farm Facebook.

Photo courtesy of the Corbin Hill Farm Facebook.

As more of our food becomes processed and obesity rates skyrocket, attention naturally turns to issues of food justice—namely access equality and production sovereignty of affordable, high-quality, healthy, fresh food. One such organization tackling this issue is Corbin Hill Farm, started by Harlem-based citizens in 2009, under the leadership of New School Professor Dennis Derryck.

Derryck gathered 72 percent of the equity from African Americans and Latinos and 50 percent from women. Although their initial intention was to grow food from a farm and have it transported to the South Bronx, a documented food desert, it has grown into so much more than just that. A recent video-documented trip by New School students highlighted the variety of ways in which the farm supports food justice. Not only does the farm bring local, farm-fresh produce to locations throughout Harlem, Washington Heights, the Bronx each Tuesday during the summer, and less often during the winter months, through its community supported agriculture (CSA) program, but the Schoharie County farm itself also buys produce from farmers in that area, which contributes to local economic revitalization. Corbin Hill Farm is also environmentally sustainable since it transports all of the local food to NYC in one trip, using less energy compared to all of the individual farms trying to bring their produce downstate.

There are many attributes of the farm that are in line with food justice. In a CSA, purchasers of produce become shareholders, have a level of sovereignty over their own food source, and give farms and farmers much-needed capital in advance of the harvest season. Additionally, unlike other CSAs, Corbin Hill Farm is exceptionally attuned to issues of food justice: it allows members to pay with Food Stamps, making fresh food accessible to all. It also has more flexible CSA policies on joining and leaving compared to others around NYC.

The video also discusses how Corbin Hill Farm reaches out to individuals living below the poverty line, who could not afford to sign up for shares despite the flexibility of the CSA and despite the ability to use SNAP benefits as initially expected in the organization’s theory of change. Derryck explained how the organization developed “community health partners.” This shift to address the observed need focuses on serving “communities within communities” as a direct way of getting the produce to individuals who need fresh produce the most. These partnerships with local organizations that serve some of the more vulnerable members of society, such as Head Start centers or homeless shelters, allow these organizations to“take back their kitchens.” According to Derryck, these partnerships have evolved to be one of the underlying goals of the farm. In this way, the farm is able to reach people in the ways that they are already organized rather than trying to re-organize a community.

Photo by Rick Wessler, courtesy of the Corbin Hill Farm Facebook.

Photo by Rick Wessler, courtesy of the Corbin Hill Farm Facebook.

Additionally, the extensive educational materials available on the website, such as a calendar of the growing season are focused on supporting the development of informed eaters. Even the FAQ page is user friendly and focused on demystifying the CSA process. One can “email a farmer” to “learn more about the fruits and vegetables in your Farm Share.” Corbin Hill Farm’s focus on connecting communities and fostering human relationships within our food system is empowering and exciting. People are encouraged to come visit the farm as both stakeholders and community builders, a model that is foreign to our usual supermarket or online shopping experience.

“Once you join Corbin Hill as a Shareholder, Corbin Hill Farm is “your” farm, and we want you to get to know it. Each year, hundreds of our Shareholders pile in buses and cars for our annual trip upstate. You’ll get tours of the land from our farmers, eat the most delicious vegetarian lunch, and get to know your fellow Shareholders.”

Derryck said that looking ahead, the farm is working on further increasing the sovereignty of the stakeholders in the farm and in their food system. And, as a model for other communities looking to create a food hub that serves low-income communities, Derryck suggests thinking about what the needs in the specific community are, where the communities within communities already exist and focus on adaption of Corbin Hill Farm’s model rather than replication, as no two communities or their needs are alike.

by Samantha Goldman

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3 Comments

  1. Georgine

     /  April 22, 2014

    This seems to be exactly the kind of education about and access to food that is needed more in the United States. The understanding of where food comes from and making it accessible is a major step in empowering people to take charge of their nutrition. This would be one way to decrease obesity rates in the US. Great portrait of an organization, which is making change happen.

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  2. Chloe Stein

     /  November 18, 2014

    After hearing that it is easier to buy a semiautomatic weapon than an organic tomato in certain communities in the United States, I have taken it upon myself to research more about food justice in America. This article does an excellent job summarizing why access to fresh produce is extremely important and how communities can set up nonprofits and organizations to combat this issue. I also believe a major focus in achieving food justice lies in educating the public on this issue and changing structural obstacles that are imbedded in our society and continuously deprive certain communities and groups of people. Recently, I saw a post online of an obese woman and her children. The captain read, “I’m too poor to be healthy. If I was well off I’d be able to buy fresh food and afford a gym membership.” The person who posted this picture’s captain had a much different view on why this woman was unable to lead a healthy lifestyle. Their captain said, “Lets think for a second. Now where could her money have gone? Eating healthy and fitness has absolutely nothing to do with how much money you have. #vegan #health #eatfresh #eathealthy #fitness #fitfam #move #stupid #run #walk #swim #calories” I felt compelled to reply to this post and nicely pointed out that food justice, especially in deprived communities where it is easier to purchase a gun than buy a tomato, is a contributing factor along with lack of education about health rather than individual responsibility to overcome the structural inequalities they may be facing. Before judging people who are unable to lead healthy lifestyles even if they wanted to, we need to examine societal issues that confound the problem. Public education about why food inequality exists and how detrimental it can be to communities and individuals is an issue that needs to be addressed along with creating opportunities for people to obtain healthy options when they otherwise lack access to fresh produce. Food is a human right and this issue should be treated as a health issue, societal issue, civil rights issue, and a human rights issue. Ignorance and blame placed on individuals is not going to help solve the larger issue of food justice.

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