Garrett Peterson first delved into Madison’s food system as an intern at Troy Farm and Madison FarmWorks, both part of Community GroundWorks. He subsequently worked as a Food Security Operations Specialist at the Community Action Coalition and returned to Troy in a staff capacity as soon as an opportunity presented itself. He is now the Farm Production Manager at Troy.
In an interview with FairShare, Garrett discussed the changing CSA landscape and food equity issues within the current model. With full steam ahead, he plans to redefine Troy’s role in Madison — namely, becoming the neighborhood farm of the Northside.
What issues do you see with the CSA model and Food Access?
We’re experiencing a few issues regarding the viability of [Troy Farm] through using a CSA model as our primary sales channel. We have struggled and have failed to sell out our shares in the last couple of years. The traditional CSA member… around here is a fairly white, middle class, educated crowd. And that is not representative of Madison or of our Northside community, within which our farm resides. Now we’re seeing increased competition from grocery store chains that have gotten on the organic bandwagon…. What that means for us is that we have to reach out, diversify our target market.
Do you have a solution to these issues?
I think there’s a really incredible opportunity here to solve a couple problems. One is that we’re struggling to fill up our membership through reaching out to the ‘usual suspects.’ And I believe there is a population right in our backyard of folks who would like to have better access to healthy food, that maybe don’t for a variety of reasons…. I want Troy Farm to be the farm for everybody on the Northside, if they want that connection. I don’t want there to be any barriers. Instead of thinking of the target market as a specific archetype…. Our target market are the people of [our] neighborhood. That’s who we need to serve.
I want Troy Farm to be the farm for everybody on the Northside, if they want that connection.
My goal is to identify and then break down as many barriers as we can to providing access to fresh, local, organic vegetables right in our neighborhood if they want them. I know there are a lot of barriers [for folks to access vegetables]…. But I know that none of that matters until we can break down financial barriers.
How will you eliminate those financial barriers?
Last year we served seven members through [FairShare’s] Partner Shares. We serve over 200 families a year. I don’t know if there is a right number, or if there is what that number is, but I know that seven doesn’t feel like it. And so I would like to start to move that needle.
Another thing we’re doing is…our relationship with the FIT Youth Initiative, which is a group that operates out of the Goodman Community Center. What we did last year is we had an Every Other Week share that was going to two community centers for after-school culinary programming for the kids. The other set-up we have is with Vera Court Community Center. Fit Youth Initiative purchased 3 Market Shares and broke those down into vouchers for families who use the community center…. The rollout was super clunky and didn’t work out very well, but we’re going to be doing it again this year and trying to smooth out those wrinkles.
What will you do to overcome other barriers to access to fresh, local food?
Increasing communication between us and FIT and identifying a point person [at the community center] and making sure they’re getting our marketing materials to their family members… Making sure that the families that are participating in the program are receiving our newsletter…. We talked about maybe having them come out for a tour sometime if they want. Another thing we’re hoping to do is have one of the high schoolers who is embedded in that community help us out with our CSA pickup and farm stand on Thursday nights so that there’s somebody from the community that can be a liaison.
The barriers for low-income folks are the same barriers for everybody else, they’re just exaggerated because they, for the most part, have less resources at their disposal, which just makes everything more time-consuming and a little more challenging. I think that a lot of times… it comes up as “Oh, people just need to be educated about the options.” Yeah, but that’s everybody. That’s a universal barrier. Same with time to cook. That’s exaggerated a little bit in low-income populations because oftentimes their time is strapped. They don’t have the disposable income or time.
What I’d like to see going forward is… make sure that [our CSA pick-up and farm stand night] is not only really inviting for our stereotypical CSA members, but is really inviting for everybody in our neighborhood. Making [our farm] feel more inclusive and exploring what that means and how to do that, so that it feels welcoming to everybody and that it serves everybody who wants to be served.