Maple Street Community Garden Launches Fresh Food Box Program

Maple Street Community Garden Launches Fresh Food Box Program
MSCG members. Arlene Roberts, first row, far left; Bayla Gottesman, second row, third from left. Courtesy of Kate Milford.

This Saturday, Prospect-Lefferts Garden’s Maple Street Community Garden (MSCG) will launch its very own Fresh Food Box Program, which provides affordably-priced boxes of seasonal and local produce.

While GrowNYC coined the name Fresh Food Box Program, and functions as wholesale produce supplier, community gardens each operate their own program independently. Arlene M. Roberts, MSCG volunteer as well as the Project Manager for the Fresh Food Box Program at MSCG, first caught wind of the idea during a bike tour last fall, which centered on the theme of food access.

On the tour, which was organized by the Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn, participants stopped at three community gardens in Bed-Stuy one Saturday. Roberts wrote in her recent food justice policy report that she remembers being awestruck by the Fresh Food Box program in operation at 462 Halsey street. The MSCG team had been trying to come up with a way to engage with their nearby neighbors, particularly those who didn’t come by to volunteer in the garden.

At MSCG, all plots are managed communally by garden members, but anyone can stop by to harvest their own food on designated harvest days. The Fresh Food Box program, Roberts realized, would give neighbors a reason to stop by – but it would also increase their access to fresh food even if they did not, or could not, come in to harvest it themselves.

So many people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, Roberts told us, forcing families to dramatically cut corners. “If you’re forced to prioritize your expenses, and what you pay first, two things would be a roof over your head and food on your table.” In her report, Roberts noted that MSCG had signed on 83 subscribers to the Fresh Food Box Program. That number had grown to 202 by mid-May. The numbers, Roberts stated in the report, “clearly indicated the urgency and appeal of the Fresh Food Box program.”

Roberts mentioned that 25 of these members come from Brooklyn nonprofit Domestic Workers United (DWU), which seeks equality and fair labor standards for domestic workers in New York City. One member, Eileen Condon, pro bono grant writer for DWU, has pledged to volunteer for a shift at the garden one Saturday per month.

Arlene Roberts, MSCG volunteer and Project Manager for the Fresh Food Box Program at MSCG. Courtesy of Maple Street Community Garden Instagram page.

In her report, Roberts also included a letter from Cheryl Sealey, member of the Prospect-Lefferts Garden Neighborhood Association (PLGNA) and a food justice advocate.  Sealey became a member of the Lefferts Community Food Cooperative because she saw it as a way to bring healthier, and more affordable, food options to the neighborhood.  In her letter, Sealey wrote that the neighborhood “has been deprived of decent food options for years.”

“It is not enough to want decent food, we have to demand decent food,” Sealey wrote. “We have to demand that our political leaders advocate for policies that provide avenues to encourage merchants and community members to work together to provide healthy food options.”

As the neighborhood continues to gentrify, Sealey wrote, the needs of the community also change. However, she said, “we must protect the needs of long-term community members, including the less affluent who are also major stakeholders. Food has to be healthy yet affordable and we also have to respect the diversity of the food in the community.”

The MSCG Fresh Food Box Program’s season will run from June 6th until November 21st. Pickup is every Saturday from 11:45 am to 2 pm at the Maple Street Community Garden, at 237 Maple Street in Prospect-Lefferts Garden. Each box is priced at $14, which members can purchase on a weekly basis through PayPal, Venmo, or with cash, and everyone is welcome to sign up.