by Julie Wolf, JFN Program Specialist
Part of a continuing series of interviews with members of our Metrowest Jewish community
A few years ago, Hilltop Farm, an organic farm in Westport, Mass., began a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. A CSA allows an individual or group to become a “member” of the farm by purchasing a farm share, which entitles them to a certain amount of freshly harvested produce each week through the growing season. Last year, Temple Israel of Natick developed a relationship with Hilltop Farm. Michelle Wilen has played a crucial role in the success of this program. In this interview, Michelle talks about how the program works and its significance not just to the temple, but to JFS and Metrowest families in need. Michelle and her husband, Adam, live in Ashland with their daughters, Kayla and Lesley.
How did Temple Israel begin its affiliation with Hilltop Farm? What made you want to get involved in this program particularly?
Hilltop Farm sent a letter to Temple Israel last year letting them know about an opportunity to have members enjoy fresh, organic produce and help out a local family. For every 10 families that purchased a farm share, Hilltop Farm would donate a farm share for the temple to distribute to a family, or families, in need.
The donation was what really caught my attention. I thought it would be wonderful for a family or families to have fresh produce weekly who otherwise wouldn’t. My role was helping with the startup logistics and contacting JFS of Metrowest so that they could identify recipients for the donation.
What was the response to the program? Are parents encouraged to pick up the produce together with their kids? How do you think families benefit from a program like this?
About 20 temple members and nursery school families participated in the program. Pickup was between 6:30 and 7 p.m., and several families brought their children to help pick out their produce. The program ran for 20 weeks, so pickup really became part of the weekly routine. My girls looked forward to going each week, seeing what they got to take home and oftentimes running into temple friends. Getting our vegetables at the temple was definitely viewed as more special than going to the grocery store! Pickup time brought people together, even if just for 5 to 10 minutes each week.
What type of produce was available through Hilltop Farm? How did you personally incorporate it into your meal planning, and do you think involvement in this program has made healthy eating more fun for your kids?
Hilltop Farm delivered a large variety of vegetables, including lettuces, peppers, eggplant, squash, and tomatoes, and too many more to name; herbs; and fruit. Although my girls are not big vegetable eaters, selecting the vegetables themselves made them a little more willing to try. A few of our favorites were potato leek soup, zucchini bread, and fresh basil on pizza.
Let’s talk about the JFS connection. JFS runs the Lucy and Joe Food Pantry, and in general, food pantries stock nonperishables. Was this the first time the food pantry had a steady supply of fresh produce? How many families benefited from the share?
Malka Young of JFS says this is the first time the food pantry has had fresh produce, but I’m hoping it can happen more often in the future. JFS’ Healthy Harvest program at the Wilson School in Framingham provides about 70 families with produce every other week during the school year. However, other than through this program, fresh produce is not usually available.
JFS identified two families a week who received the farm share. These were families that were using the food pantry at JFS, as well as refugees, asylees, and frail elders.
Why do you feel it’s important to be involved with a Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA) like this one?
I think it’s beneficial when individuals or groups can be a part of a program with such positive outcomes. The produce is grown in Massachusetts, so purchasing a farm share supports local growers. We who picked up farm shares had a chance to chat with other people from Metrowest, swap recipes, and make new social contacts. Families in our community received donated fresh produce. It was a win-win all around.
We plan to run the program again this year and welcome new families to participate. If you’d like to know more about the program, please check out Hilltop Farm’s website.