Updated Sept. 30 at 9:28 p.m.
Groups of Columbia University students and community members begin forming a line around 10 a.m. each Sunday; some arrive on bikes, dressed and ready for the day, others appear to have rolled out of bed and landed on the street in pajamas and slippers. After signing in with a volunteer, customers file down the row of boxes to handpick their products.
And so, the Morningside Heights Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program gets up and running, ready to perform its weekly routine.
Every Sunday morning, crates and boxes and cartons of earthy produce are unloaded on the corner of 119th Street and Claremont Avenue. Dozens of boxes are stacked and arranged neatly along the sidewalk with the help of student volunteers.
Morningside Heights CSA began in the fall of 2008 as a way to reconnect the community with the practice of local farming and sustainability. While not officially associated with Columbia University, the farm share program is run by student volunteers.
The produce comes from La Baraja Farm in Orange County and is transported each Sunday morning by farmers Pedro and Maritza Rodriguez. La Baraja is committed to abstaining from chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
This fall, close to 200 farm shares have been purchased at $230 for 10 weeks of pickup during the fall semester only. Each share includes enough weekly produce to feed a group of three to four veggie-lovers. For $120 a semester, fruit shares can be added as an apple-a-day guaranteed addition.
This week, participants walked away with an eggplant, three zucchini, bell and banana peppers, red lettuce, a bundle of carrots, cilantro, and three ears of corn each.
The CSA program was recently presented to student council and received $10,000 in subsidies for students, according to CSA volunteer Sahana Narayanan, CC ’20.
As the program evolves, Narayanan and her peers hope to expand its accessibility and initiatives.
“We think about who has access to organic food and what are the kind of knowledge systems in place which allow some people, mostly upper-class white people, to cook with organic greens and know what’s healthy for their bodies,” Narayanan said. “I think that’s a privilege that a lot of people can’t afford to have. For us, it’s really about letting people know that this is something accessible for everyone—a right over your own body.”
Columbia College Student Council members are keen to make sure all students have access to this program, and their subsidized low-income initiative asks students to pay only $20 for the entire semester. The student is then grouped with three or four other participants by residence hall, and one of the group’s members picks up the food each Sunday.
In addition to more collaboration with Columbia, Narayanan and the rest of the CSA volunteers hope to organize excursions to farms upstate and increase engagement with urban farming and sustainability programs. This will include donating any unclaimed produce to local housing equity projects.
This initiative is one of many influences turning Morningside Heights into a sustainable and nutritionally accessible campus, alongside Pisticci and the The Food Pantry at Columbia, which will hopefully inspire much more positive change.
“We’re thinking about sustainability,” Narayanan said. “And I feel, especially in New York, we’re in this heavily urban environment where we forget what it means to be connected to what it is we’re eating.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mislabeled The Food Pantry at Columbia. Spectator regrets the error.