Willy MurphyThe Franciscan Center launched our latest healthy food initiative, the Fresh Harvest CSA Project, at a press conference during United Way’s Families Living United Healthy Foods Week in May. This innovative project is the first of its kind in Baltimore, providing free Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to 30 Baltimore City residents in need throughout the 2013 growing season.

More than two years in the making, the Center’s Fresh Harvest CSA Project is designed to gather information on how to introduce fresh, healthy foods to economically vulnerable families and individuals in our community and help them incorporate these foods into their daily diet.

Robin Barnes signed up for the Fresh Harvest CSA Project in an effort to eat better, lose weight, and improve her overall health. The Franciscan Center has helped her through some tough times, having received assistance with her

electric bills, getting an ID and emergency groceries. When she heard about CSA project, Robin did not hesitate to sign up.
“I am truly blessed to have gotten in,” Robin said. “I want to try to eat more healthy because I’m getting older. I’m looking forward to coming in every Thursday to pick up the shares. I can learn a lot of things when I come to the Franciscan Center.”

So far, participants received a variety of fresh produce including strawberries, kale, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, fennel, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, spring onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and several types of lettuce. Each week, the produce changes depending on the season.

“I froze the strawberries and the zucchini was delicious!” Robin added.

Beginning in June and running through November, the Fresh Harvest CSA Project includes much more than weekly CSA shares. Participants also receive basic cooking utensils and seasonings, food preparation tips, recipes, cooking
demonstrations and access to guest speakers and chefs.

At the end of June and July, 10 people participated in “Shopping Matters,” a workshop held at the local Safeway by University of Maryland Extension – Food Supplement Nutrition Education Program (FSNE) that focused on healthy eating, budgeting, and label reading. One more class will be available at the end of August.

Participants and their families will also have the opportunity to visit One Straw Farm, where their CSA shares are grown. On this trip they will meet with the farmers, see where their food is grown and enjoy lunch in the country.

In order to participate in the project, each person met a set of requirements and agreed to share information about their eating habits and use of fresh produce through a weekly survey. This project is a unique opportunity for the Center to gain information about the food preferences of economically vulnerable men, women, and children in our community. With more than 300,000 people in Central Maryland living without access to safe and nutritious foods, this information will be an invaluable resource.

The Center is committed to improving public health in the Baltimore community by offering access to fresh, healthy foods through our soup kitchen and emergency pantry programs. Reaching out to those we serve to learn what types of fresh
vegetables they like and can use will help us tailor our programs to meet their specific needs.

The Fresh Harvest (CSA) Project is funded by United Way of Central Maryland’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative, a multi-faceted program that is making healthy food more easily accessible for food insecure central Marylanders through collaborations to grow more locally, improve distribution and increase access, affordability and education. Our partners include Molly Shattuck Vibrant Living, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, University of Maryland Extension FSNE, and One Straw Farm.