Renee Horst (left) is a staff member with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) and a member of the community engagement team who oversees the Farm to Families Pick Up. That program provides fresh, organic produce and meat from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative to members of the Kensington and Fishtown community.
Can you explain your position with the NKCDC?
We’re a housing agency, first and foremost. We do a lot of housing, either first time home buying to utilities assistance to foreclosure diversion. We have people who go to foreclosure court. We work with small businesses in the area, doing a lot of economic development. We do a lot of fostering of and supporting community organizations, civic associations, neighborhood associations. On the community engagement end our team is more on the ground. We’re kind of the face to the neighborhood of NKCDC and we’re also the ears hearing the needs and concerns and current happenings in the neighborhood. We support neighborhood associations. We support on a block to block level, especially in our strategic neighborhood planning area north of Lehigh, in the Kensington neighborhood. We’re out there often. I do a lot of the social connecting, a lot of the social services connecting food referrals to pantries, often working with senior citizens connecting them with services or connecting them with city services. We’re in contract to bring education about city resources to the neighborhood also.
What is Farm to Families and what does it do for the local community?
Farm to Families is an affordable produce box program which is sponsored by and run by St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children. With the hospital really just serving urban North Philadelphia neighborhoods, especially trying to make healthy eating and nutrition affordable for lower income, lower socioeconomic family structures in the North Philadelphia area.
What kind of difference have you seen in providing this healthy alternative for people who may not typically be able to afford it?
I see the impact on a person to person level often, just in individual stories. A man I know, Gary, lost a lot of weight, addressed some cholesterol issues, addressed some diabetes issues after his physician pointed him to Farm to Families and he became a regular and is really the type now to only eat organic and only goes vegetarian. He leans vegan more often than not, but not entirely and has seen amazing results from that. It’s the one-off stories like that where you see an impact. I think it matters a lot on a larger scale just that people know that that’s there and that’s an option and it’s a way to explore different foods than what most people would walk into a grocery store and choose to purchase.
Based on the varying customers you have, do you see this as a type of equal opportunity organic option for the community?
I think so. It makes organic food affordable. Our prices here are able to compete with conventional non-organics in a grocery store. I think that matters. I think that often, most customers will talk about how expensive organic produce is, so you know that they’re not choosing that except for the weeks that they have a little extra to really splurge and treat themselves. In this case, they’re able to eat that way and spend the same amount of money.
What kind of subsidized cost program does Farm to Families provide?
Because we have such a diverse customer base, especially here at our New Kensington and Fishtown location, we have a regular price and a subsidized price. St. Christopher’s has negotiated the business model really well so that even the regular price is more affordable than most in the area. If other people have indicators toward the subsidized price, St. Christopher’s will pay more to bring that price a little lower. Things like: if there’s children in your home, you’re likely to get a subsidized cost; certain incomes, if you’re below 300 percent of the poverty line in Philadelphia you’ll get the subsidized price. Things like that, different indicators toward food insecurities or inability to have money that lasts through the month, paycheck to paycheck.
Do you see this as a viable option for people in this area looking for organic options?
Yes. Simply, yes. I think our prices are good. You might be able to get better prices at the Save-a-Lot, but for less quality and less variety of produce. I would say our prices are right on par if not below what grocery stores or corner stores have to offer.
– Text and images by Jared Phillips