History of La Canasta

La Canasta, a food buying club for the Bronx, is a program of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center (MMC).  It has received support and sponsorship from the Simon Bolivar Foundation and the Kenneth Cole Fellowship Program of Columbia University.

The MMC opened in 1997 to serve families in the Crotona section of the Bronx.  In 2007, the teens at the Center did a research project about the health of families in our neighborhood.  They found that half the children born this year in the Bronx will have diabetes in their lifetime.  Also, 60% of adults in the Bronx are overweight or obese (these are NYC Health Dept. stats).  These problems are food related and the MMC decided to try and create an environment in which it would be easier to make healthy food choices.  We started by creating a “Zero Tolerance for Crappy Food” policy and stopped allowing children, youth and staff to bring junk food or soda into the Center.  Then we started providing healthy meals every day for the children in our programs including: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk.  Next we developed the Family Health Challenge to engage youth and their families in the making healthy choices all week long.  The challenge lasts for eight weeks with a new challenge each week, a tally sheet for youth to keep track of their progress, and information sheets to send home to parents explaining each challenge.  Finally, in an effort to help families meet the FHC challenges of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables we started La Canasta, a food buying club for the Bronx.

Four interns from the Kenneth Cole Fellowship Program created a Business Plan for the project that helped to define the type of program we would run.  Our food buying club is modeled after similar programs in California and Toronto, Canada. 

The Simon Bolivar Foundation gave the Center funding to incubate the new program in 2011-2012.  With this funding we purchased the supplies for the program and kept a van for pick up and deliveries.

The program works by us registering people who want to buy food through La Canasta.  Members then contact us by phone or email to order bags.  Every week we go to the Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest wholesale market in the country, and purchasing food at wholesale prices for our members.  We then bring the food to the MMC and divide it into bags.  Then we deliver it to the drop off sites for our members.

The key is the drop off sites and contact people at these sites to help us organize the ordering and delivery.  We have sites that are non-profit organizations, assisted living apartment buildings, public housing, private apartment buildings, shelters, and religious organization.  We can create a drop off site anywhere as long as there are at least 5 members and one person who acts as contact for the site. 

To compare the quality and cost of La Cansta bags to other options is not easy because the quality of food is hard to quantify and cost depends on your source and the quality.  The quality of La Canasta food is outstanding.  It is fresh as you can get without being a farmer or buying from a farmer because we buy it and deliver it within 48 hours.  We compared two of our bags to the same items purchased through Fresh Direct and our $25 bag was valued at $37 and $42 (not including the Fresh Direct $6.00 delivery charge).  A family might be able to get the same items at the local grocery store for around $35 but it would not be as fresh.

Finally, there is a Health Crisis in the Bronx related to what we eat and how much exercise we get.  We need a movement of families that work together and support each other to change personal habits, policies and an an unjust food system.  Purchasing food through La Canasta is a way for Bronx residents to become engaged with others in their drop off site and others in the program.  It will take a huge effort to transform the system and build a healthy environment but we believe that the people of the Bronx are up for the challenge because the very lives of our children depend upon it.

Become a member of La Canasta to get fresh food and to join the fight for food justice.

For more information contact Heidi at (917) 402-4129 or via email at lacanasta@bronxgreensupply.com.