While farmers markets abound across California, there are still neighborhoods that are considered food deserts. In Los Angeles and Orange County, one organization seeks to address this issue by bringing healthy fruits and vegetables to low-income, ethnic enclaves where there’s little or no access to healthy produce. Just as importantly, most of the fruits and vegetables that come inside the twice-a-month bag are grown sustainably by Asian farmers in California, and include produce traditionally enjoyed by Asians and Pacific Islanders, such as bok choy eggplant, and more.
The Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, a health-focused nonprofit that runs the Roots Community Supported Agriculture (Roots CSA) program. It works with mostly Asian farmers, such as Hmong farmers in Central Valley, a Vietnamese farmer in Ventura, and an urban farm in Long Beach, to bring bags of fresh produce to areas like the historic Filipino Town, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Koreatown, Garden Grove and Anaheim. They keep the cost affordable at $60 for three months, or 6 bags of produce at $10 each. The program has grown in the last three years from about a dozen people participating to now more than 120 families or individuals subscribing the to CSA.
Program Manager Kyle Tsukahira shares about his experience managing the program, about the farmers, and about the impact he’s seen.
Can you tell us what Roots CSA is and why it was founded?
Roots Community Supported Agriculture (Roots CSA) is a program of the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) where we partner with small local Asian American farmers to get fresh, sustainably grown, and culturally relevant produce to Asian and Pacific Islander families across L.A. and Orange County at an affordable rate. We are also trying to foster a more sustainable food system that focuses on reducing carbon emissions by purchasing local produce versus purchasing produce that needs to be shipped from across the country or even across the globe. Most importantly, we are reconnecting people back to the land, their food, and the small farmers who grow it.
What are some of your favorite moments relating to the CSA program?
Nothing has put the work we are doing at APIOPA in more perspective than getting to know the farmers we work with. One of our farmers, Mr. Cha Her, gave us a tour of his 10 acre farm in Clovis, CA last year. As we walked around the farm Mr. Her’s 5 year old son came running out of the house to see what his dad was up to. Not too long afterwards his older sister came out and they started playing tag amongst the jujube trees in the orchard. As we walked up closer to where they kids were playing, both of them picked a jujube off the tree and ran off while happily munching away on their freshly picked treat. Mr. Her shared with us that one of the reasons he doesn’t use harmful pesticides on his crops is because his kids often times play on the farm and eat the produce. It was in that moment I realized why it’s so important to have a relationship with the person that grows your food.
Can you share a story about how you’ve seen the CSA impact individuals or families?
Over the past 3 years we’ve heard many inspiring stories from our subscribers about the way the CSA has impacted their lives. One subscriber shared that prior to joining the CSA he had a health scare and as a father of two young children he wanted to make sure he would be there for them as they grow up. That’s why when he heard about the CSA program he saw it as a great way to incorporate more veggies in his diet and eat healthier. The fact that the Roots CSA program contained familiar items used in Pilipino cooking such as baby bok choy and eggplant was a huge bonus. He shared that he was able to lose 60 pounds over the course of 18 months thanks in part to cooking healthier meals at home.
Are there any challenges in getting low-income APIs to sign up for the CSA?
One of the biggest challenges in getting low-income APIs to sign up for the CSA is the fact that APIs have one of the lowest participation rates in government assistance programs like the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) despite the fact that many API families meet the requirements to apply. This is not surprising considering the fact that for many immigrant and refugee families in the API community there is a strong distrust of government due to negative and often time’s traumatic experiences people had in their home countries where going to the government for assistance is unheard of. Furthermore, there are many cultural and linguistic barriers which make understanding, signing up, and utilizing government assistance programs difficult especially in monolingual households. This is why it is extremely important that culturally sensitive outreach and linguistically accessible materials are created for API communities so they can benefit from government assistance programs which in turn can help cover the costs of purchasing fresh produce.
What is your goal with the program and APIOPA in general? What do you hope to be the outcome of your work?
Historic Filipinotown, one of the ethnic neighborhoods that we currently supply produce to, has no large markets available. In fact, many of the community members we work with have shared that they either purchase their fruits and vegetables by driving to other cities, or by buying whatever is available at their local liquor stores. How do we encourage communities to eat healthier when there is no access in their neighborhood? On top of that, what happens when the produce that is available isn’t even culturally-relevant? Our larger goal is to be able to ensure that these situations do not happen. Our model is to source culturally-relevant produce grown from local farmers, directly back in to the neighborhoods that need it the most. To find out more information please visit us on the web at www.rootscsa.org.
+ + +
Catch the L.A. premiere of Off the Menu: Asian America at the Japanese American National Museum this Sunday, October 25. Presented by Visual Communications, the event includes a film screening, panel discussion, food tasting, and more. The evening includes a post-screening conversation of people representing Los Angeles’ culinary scene, including APIOPA farmer Youa Yang of Yang Farms, Chef Minh Phan of Porridge+Puffs, food writer Christine Chiao and scholar Karen Tongson. Writer and sociologist (and Off the Menu web story contributor) Oliver Wang will moderate the discussion.
Egg Drop Soup with Bok Choy and Shitake Mushrooms
by Chih-Kuo Lee (reprinted with permission from Roots CSA)
- 6 eggs, softly beaten
- Chicken stock, 6 cups
- Bok choy, 1 head, chopped
- Shiitake mushrooms, 1½ cup, chopped
- Green onions, ¼ cup, chopped
- Ginger, minced, ½ tablespoon
- Cornstarch, 3 tablespoons
- ½ cup of water
- Olive oil, 1 tablespoon
- Soy sauce, 1 table spoon
Prep time: about 15 minutes
Cook time: about 15 minutes
Mix the cornstarch and dissolve it into the ½ cup of water. Mince the ginger, chop the green onions, shiitake mushrooms, and bok choy. In a large bowl, lightly beat the 6 eggs. Add the olive oil into a preheated pot for the soup. Sauté the chopped mushrooms until they are soft and slightly tender, but still has some firmness to it. Next add the bok choy, and sauté again until the bok choy has shriveled and wilted a little. Pour in the chicken stock to the pot, and heat on medium-high. Remember to stir frequently. Once the soup has reached a boil, add the minced garlic and soy sauce. Once the bok choy and mushrooms look very soft and tender, add the cornstarch. Boil for about 2-3 minutes, and then reduce to a simmer on low heat. Carefully and slowly pour the eggs into the soup, and stir constantly. The retained heat and low heat setting should gradually cook the eggs, and once they are solid but runny/streaky, serve in 4 bowls!