MODESTO — Witnessing the growth of the West Modesto Community Supported Agriculture program and its promise of affordable, fresh produce for low-income residents brings me full circle to my roots.
When I was young, I lived with my great-grandmother at her Monterey Park tract home, and she grew a lot of what we ate. We raised pigs and chickens, and there always was a large garden in her quarter-acre back yard.
Great-grandmother had a green thumb, and everything she planted grew and grew. I remember her proudly harvesting her vegetables and then serving them for dinner. There was no fresher or better- tasting produce. Her vegetable garden included mustard and collard greens, carrots, pinto beans, okra and yams. There always was something growing.
Like the West Modesto CSA program, my great-grandmother had access to kind and generous farmers. We didn't own a car but would arrange to car-pool to local farms with our neighbors.
Right before the farmers would plow their fields after harvest, they'd let us "glean" their acreage of any leftover crops. I remember picking black-eyed peas, string beans, tomatoes and blackberries.
The generosity of the farmers often was the difference in keeping food on our table. Going to the grocery store was not an option. We had very little money.
Money and access are again issues when it comes to year-round availability of affordable California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables for west Modesto residents. They must travel out of the area to purchase healthy foods.
The West Modesto CSA program brings affordable and beneficial fruits and vegetables to west Modesto neighbors. Money and access no longer are barriers.
The CSA program is based on west Modesto residents pledging support to a local farm operation, so the farmland becomes part of the community. Participating residents purchase a "share," or membership, which provides them with a bag of seasonal produce regularly throughout the year.
The West Modesto CSA grows its produce at a 1.5-acre farm in Ceres. The farm is expected to expand over the next two years. The manager is Shyaam M. Shabaka, the founder and owner of the Eco-Village Farming Learning Center, which is based in Richmond.
The CSA farm is expected to be in full production by summer 2014. Meanwhile, by partnering with local farmers, fresh seasonal CSA produce is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month at the King- Kennedy Memorial Center at 601 S. Martin Luther King Drive.
While the CSA program's primary target audience is west Modesto residents, it's available to all residents. For information on annual CSA membership fees or biweekly purchases, call Mary Burton or me at (209) 522-6902.
The West Modesto CSA program is made possible by Kaiser Permanente's Healthy Eating Active Living HEAL Zone Initiative and the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The Kaiser Northern California Region is investing more than $5.5 million to embrace healthier eating and active living in Modesto, Richmond and Santa Rosa.
Collins is program manager of the Stanislaus Multi-Cultural Community Health Coalition, West Modesto/King-Kennedy Neighborhood Collaborative.