|By Jodi LaMarco|
“You think of food deserts as urban areas that don’t have grocery stores, but there are also rural areas that are food deserts,” says Katie Scott-Childress, director of the Olive Library. “Olive happens to be one of them.” The Town of Olive sits right beside the Ashokan Reservoir, where natural beauty abounds, but alas, not many grocery stores. The lack of nearby access to fresh produce prompted the library to become a new drop-off point for Rondout Valley Organics, a buyers club that provides locally produced vegetables, meats, cheeses, and other products.
Memberships for Rondout Valley Organics cost $50 per year, and each customer has a pre-paid bank account for making purchases. Members select their orders online, which are then brought to the library on Friday afternoons and stored in coolers with enough ice to keep food fresh until the following day.
Unlike a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture), buyers clubs give customers the flexibility of ordering exactly what they want from a number of producers. “With a conventional CSA, you’re going to receive a certain number of vegetables each week whether you like them (or need them) or not. We were hearing from a lot of our patrons that they kept kitchen gardens, but they like the idea of being able to buy local, organic food products,” explains Scott-Childress.
Likewise, individually selected orders give farmers the advantage of harvesting only what they need. “That’s ideal for us,” says Nadia Maczaj of Rusty Plow Farm in Ellenville. “There’s no waste.” The farm is one of several vendors providing food for Rondout Valley Organics, and serves as the manager for the club’s marketplace.
The buyers club model gives contributing farmers a margin of security as well. Yearly memberships collected by Rondout Valley Organics help to cover some upfront costs such as seed starting and advertising. The collective aspect of the buyers club also takes some of the pressure off of individual farms. “The onus isn’t just on our farm to produce things. We really do like the part of it that lets us work together and offer people so much more than they can get from one place,” Maczaj explains.
The club has also created a reliable venue through which small, local farmers can sell their goods. “Everyone has their place in this agricultural world, and we’re helping to create that place for those smaller growers,” says Maczaj.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the buyers club is implied by its name. The food supplied by Rondout Valley Organics is about as local as it gets. “Our members are welcome to call us and come see the farm. They can call the Moveable Beast farm and visit them. They can call Majestic Farm and see how the animals are taken care of. That connection is super, super local,” says Maczaj. “We’re not looking to sell in New York City. We’re really looking to supply local food to local people who want to eat it.”