As residents in Muskegon’s core city neighborhoods struggle to find fresh produce, an urban farm is working hard to increase access to affordable fruits and vegetables.
McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, which is operated by the nonprofit Community enCompass and is located at the corner of Hoyt Street and East Larch Avenue, is making big changes in the way it operates in an effort to reach more residents living close to the green space, Farm Manager Mikayla Rowden said.
“Last summer, I noticed a lot of people were coming to the farm and were getting boxes of vegetables, but they couldn’t afford a CSA rate,” Rowden said, referring to the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program. “I felt bad we weren’t meeting the needs of the neighborhood, and that was troubling to me.”
To address this, the farm is revamping its CSA rates: a CSA share has dropped from last year’s $700 to this year’s $440—and that price can further decrease depending on one’s income, Rowden emphasized. For those unfamiliar with CSAs, think of them as direct connections between a farm and a consumer. A customer purchases what’s known as a “share” of a CSA program, which means they regularly receive portions of what is grown on a local farm. At McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, CSA customers will receive 22 weeks’ worth of fruits and vegetables, as well as information about the produce and accompanying recipes.
Additionally, customers can now pay with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which allows those interested in shopping at the farm to spend $12 a week for the CSA. On top of that, individuals and families are welcome to use Double Up Food Bucks, which further drops the CSA price to $6 a week. For individuals who don’t qualify for EBT but cannot afford to pay the full $440 for a share, the farm is offering a sliding scale price.
These changes are meant to expand accessibility to healthy food for everyone in the city—and especially for residents living in the “food desert” that surrounds the urban farm. A food desert refers to an area that’s underserved, or not served at all, by grocery stores, and where people’s nutritional options are limited to cheaper, high-calorie food.
“A lot of people in the neighborhood don’t have reliable transportation,” said Rowden, who lives in the McLaughlin neighborhood and became McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm’s manager last summer. “Getting to Meijer is difficult. I found a lot of people in the area are getting their groceries from Westco or a local liquor store. It’s sad to me we don’t have fresh food for everyone close by.”
At McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, the CSA program aims to close that divide between residents and healthy food by providing a wide variety of produce, from beets, carrots, greens, and herbs earlier in the summer to tomatoes, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, and turnips in mid-summer and winter squash, garlic, onions, potatoes and more in the fall. Currently, about 32 people have signed up for the CSA program; about one-third of the customers are using EBT or the sliding scale program. The CSA can accommodate a total of about 60 participants. For more information about McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm and the CSA program, click here.