City Fresh Expands Local Food Options

Peter D'Auria

City Fresh, a program run through the alumni-founded nonprofit New Agrarian Center, delivers local, sustainably grown produce to Oberlin and 16 other locations from June to October. The NAC is comprised of George Jones Farm and the City Fresh program. The program’s mission, according to the NAC website, is to improve inner-city residents’ access to local food.

“For financial reasons or transportation reasons or location, many people don’t have good access to healthy food,” said Gina Makris, managing director of Lorain County City Fresh. “So we find the people, and we bring it to them.”

City Fresh delivers to Cuyahoga, Lorain and Erie counties. Thirty percent of its customers live below the poverty line. The greatest customer density is in Cuyahoga County — according to the NAC website, City Fresh delivers to approximately 800 families, roughly 500 of whom are in Cleveland.  

“Oberlin’s a pretty big stop for us too,” said Makris.

Customers in Oberlin include College students, alumni, professors and city residents.

“I really wanted to eat more local vegetables,” said College senior Lexie Sharabianlou, who receives food through City Fresh. “I want to stop relying so much on [Campus Dining Services] and learn how to cook for myself. Plus, I don’t have a car so I can’t go to Walmart whenever I want.”

B Mann, OC ’11, a City Fresh customer and volunteer, echoed Sharabianlou’s sentiments.

“It’s nice to be able to buy fresh and local … for cheap and have a way better alternative to Walmart and IGA for five months of the year,” Mann said in an e-mail with the Review.

The produce is grown by 20 different farms located in Cuyahoga, Lorain and Erie counties.

“All work with sustainable growing techniques,” said Markis. “Some are certified organic, [but] many are not, simply due to pricing.”

City Fresh vans run on donated vegetable oil, a portion of which comes from Oberlin College, in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

Customers pre-order their shares, from a minimum of one week in advance, and pick up their produce at their local “Fresh Stop.” Oberlin’s is Christ Episcopal Church, on South Main Street. Shares come in every Thursday and cost $15 for a single share and $28 for a family share. City Fresh accepts food stamps and provides reduced rates to low-income families and individuals.

Portions are reputedly generous. College senior Eli Lisseck, who participates in the program, counted off a long list of vegetables included in his share.

“Sometimes the shares have been actually too big,” he said.

“There’s so much,” said Sharabianlou. “We don’t ever use all of it.”

Like its customers, City Fresh has a lot on its plate.

“We’re going into the corporate world now,” said Makris, discussing a recent visit to A.J. Rose Manufacturing Co. “We [sell] quite a bit at Oberlin College to Bon Appétit already. We do some local restaurants; if they want it, they know we’re here. We [sell] some to the local market if they request it, and we also sell to farmers’ markets.”

The NAC is also involved with an urban garden start-up program and a partnership with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.

“We’ve pretty much got our fingers into everything,” said Makris.