September 2, 2009


While the organist plays the closing strains of the recessional, Julia Hofmeister and her crew are busy in First Presbyterian Church's activity room setting out the last items on tables already groaning under an abundance of summer produce. In a few moments, shareholders will stream through the door to collect this week's share in a unique community supported agriculture project designed to provide the less fortunate with affordable healthy food.

Hofmeister, a senior sustainable agriculture major in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, heard about similar programs in Cleveland, Ohio through Community Farm Alliance, of which she is a member. She saw the CSA concept, a subscription-based program where consumers buy shares in a farm's output entitling them to season-long regular deliveries of freshly harvested produce, as an ideal way to help struggling families in Lexington. Church members' shares, which break down to $20 per week over the growing season, subsidize shares for families with lower incomes. 

"This is a CSA with a mission aspect or a community service aspect," said Hofmeister, who is the church's assistant youth director. "Community members, people who live in the 40508 zip code, the identified ‘food desert,' pay $10 or whatever they can afford. We targeted Habitat for Humanity and Kentucky Refugee Ministries, our existing partners in mission, to get community members to be part of the project. The flyers went like wildfire, and we had hundreds of phone calls. So we're going to expand next year."

Early in the season, Hofmeister gathered produce from a number of area farmers, but eventually found it was easier to get it all from one source. Currently all the food comes from Ricky Courtney, a Community Farm Alliance member, and his neighbors in Harrison County.

The program offers church members more than the opportunity to buy shares. The young people are also involved.

"Over 40 youth here at the church have participated in summer programming at Heifer International Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas and are pretty food literate. We don't have a community garden; we don't have land because we're a downtown church.  So when I heard about this program, I thought this was a great way that the kids could do a Heifer kind of mission, but without having a community garden."

Church members collect fresh produce from their CSA program.Before school let out for the summer, young people from the church met on Saturdays to help harvest the crops. Molly Baker, one of Hofmeister's adult volunteers, also helped on the farms.

"The farm we went to was Berries on Bryan Station. It's family run, and we got to see what they were going through to make it organic," she said. "After we would do our harvesting, a couple times we helped plant or helped weed, so we had that full experience."

At the end of the growing season, there are plans to take the kids out to Courtney's farm for a tour and to do a little farm work. And when they head back to the city, they will all bring a pumpkin home.

Chad Mueller, a church deacon and chemistry professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, bought a share and also volunteered to create a newsletter complete with nutritional information and recipes.

"I like the idea of it (the CSA), both encouraging me and challenging me to eat more vegetables, and offering the opportunity to provide lower cost vegetables to folks in the downtown area," he said.

The program has introduced him to some items he's never had before or doesn't eat often.

"I don't think I've ever bought a head of cabbage, but I've had several heads this summer and found some really cool things to do with it," he said. "It's a neat opportunity to try things that are different."

Shortly after the church crowd thins out, an African woman with her two young sons arrive with their sponsor from Kentucky Refugee Ministries. The boys are all smiles as they sample fresh cantaloupe, and by the time the family leaves, they are laden with bags bursting with melons, tomatoes, squash, and corn, as well as a copy of Mueller's weekly newsletter.

"We have a family from Congo and one from Tanzania," Hofmeister said. "It's been cool to see them progress with their English and to get to know the kids over the past couple weeks. We had one of our community members have her second child - she's a Habitat member - and so we're going to get her a baby food mill, so she can take this food and use it for the baby. We've really built some relationships here, which is what's fun."

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