Lush lettuce, abundant broccoli, crisp cabbage and succulent string beans: The bounty of the autumn harvest appears. What makes this harvest from York Fresh Food Farms (FFF) so special is that it comes from the heart of York city.
Sweet potatoes and Lake Flat Dutch cabbages were two abundant crops on the farm this season. “Why giant cabbages? Because if [someone] has four or five kids at home, that cabbage is a meal,” says founder and farm manager Bruce Manns. “We grow cabbages and sweet potatoes that are big enough to feed whole families.”
Located on Willis Road between Parkway Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue, FFF is a nonprofit, all-organic, urban micro farm minutes from Continental Square. “We want to start something new in York that will benefit residents in surrounding underserved neighborhoods,” Manns explains.
Produce for a Healthier Community
FFF seeks to establish a healthier, happier community by providing fresh, organic produce along with gardening and nutrition advice. By partnering with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, York Health Bureau (YHB), York Food Alliance and Family First Health, Manns and FFF plan “not to save the world, but make a little part of York city better by providing access to nutritional produce.”
Promoting Access and Affordability
According to Manns, York has one of the highest obesity rates for its population size, with 30 to 40 percent of its residents relying on public transportation. The city recently launched the Healthy Corner Store Initiative that provides local stores with nutritious food options. However, when shopping at convenience stores, people don’t always know where their food is grown and how fresh it is.
“I had an epiphany that [city residents’] issue with good food and nutrition has nothing to do with them,” he says. “It’s an issue of access and affordability. All we’re trying to do is provide healthy, reasonably priced produce for those who like it and will eat it.”
From Farm to Neighborhoods
In mid-2017, FFF is scheduled to bring healthy options directly to city residents. The farm will provide mobile produce vans and food stands equipped with Family First Health nutritionists. The nutritionists will coach citizens about making healthy choices and preparing produce. “Unlike the supermarket experience, with the mobile produce van and food stand, you have the chance to know your farmer, what he did and why he did it,” Manns adds.
FFF has already started to nourish and educate the community. In 2016, more than half of the farm’s crops were donated to local food banks. With the help of the YHB, Manns also manages a seed and tool library as well as a transplant greenhouse. Once the vegetation from the greenhouse is mature, he donates transplants to York’s community gardens. By using transplants, residents can grow their own vegetables without having to start plants from seed.
FFF and the Community
In addition to providing mobile vans, stands and food donations, Manns is assisting the YHB with its corner store initiative. The YHB will supply five local corner stores with refrigeration units that FFF will stock with affordable produce.
His involvement with downtown businesses doesn’t stop at corner stores. He’s also in the process of establishing relationships with several York restaurants so that he can provide them with fresh goods next year. “It’s a great, novelty idea to have the local city farm provide city food to city restaurants,” he says.
While produce sales will generate some income to sustain and potentially expand FFF’s land, according to Manns, the York County Community Foundation is helping FFF by providing funding to purchase more land. By broadening his acreage, Manns will be able to produce and provide more food to city residents.
Education and Nutrition for Years to Come
When Manns is not physically farming and gardening, he’s writing agricultural advice for a local gardening column. “Rather than growing designer vegetables, FFF is culturally sensitive to what people like,” he says. “It’s about growing what they enjoy but don’t always have access to.”
Although he generously provides nourishment and education to the community, Manns stresses, “I’m not looking for the thanks. Gardening is not a job. I do this because I love it and I eat the food, too.” In fact, he plans to build a foundation for Fresh Food Farms to pass on his work to others who have a spirit of giving like his.
Until then, Manns continues to offer advice and access to wholesome produce with high hopes that “the next generation will acquire a taste and continue to eat healthfully for years to come.”
Story and photography by Brandi Mummert for YRK Magazine