Since 2009, Art Friedrich, cofounder of Urban Oasis Project, has had one goal in mind: to make healthy, local food more accessible to all.
Friedrich and his group of volunteers do this by teaching people in underserved communities to start and maintain food gardens. They also connect consumers to local produce through farmers' markets and fruit and vegetable subscription programs in conjunction with various health clinics.
Five years ago, Urban Oasis operated the CSA (community-supported agriculture) program for the Farm at Verde Gardens. That experience, and urging from its loyal customers to start a program of its own, prompted Friedrich to kick one off.
The weekly CSA box will cost a flat fee of $40. Inside, customers will find a surprise assortment of locally grown produce.
The CSA program is a win-win for farmers and consumers alike, Friedrich says. “We get to buy more from local farms and the customers get a premium, first-dibs selection of what’s available. Because of the standardization and commitment, we will be able to offer more produce for less price."
For the program, Urban Oasis will be draw from multiple farms they’ve been working with for years, plus any new local ones they can find, Friedrich adds. It will be a multifarm CSA," he says. "It will be a shorter commitment than the usual CSA because we have a lot more flexibility since we also run farm stands at so many farmers' markets.
Since the coronavirus pandemic closed Urban Oasis' in-person farmers' markets around town, Friedrich and his volunteers have found a new, larger home at Radiate Fermentation Lab in Allapattah to store, pack, and sort produce.
“This current site is much more developed and helps us keep everything fresh. We converted an old walk-in fridge into our packing area, so it keeps everything nice and cool,” Friedrich says.
Since the pandemic descended, Urban Oasis has been packing community food boxes to give to families in need. Before that, it had staged a variety of special events for different groups, including a Thanksgiving giveaway for the Miami Dade College Hialeah campus. "We’ve done this for the past few years and it’s very similar to what we’ve done with the fruit and vegetable subscription program," Friedrich says.
Friedrich says all of Urban Oasis' projects serve one main goal. “We want to connect people to fresh, seasonal produce. The online store and our pick-up and delivery gives people another option. And because we are used to doing deliveries now, CSA feels like a very natural extension of what we do,” he says.
Creating the CSA program is also a homage to horticulturist Booker T. Whatley, an agriculture professor at Tuskegee University in Alabama who is credited with introducing the CSA model to the United States in the 1960s. Sam Vazquez, who with Ashley Varela runs Urban Oasis’ Project Maracuya, a CSA-style SNAP box program for families experiencing food injustice for a variety of reasons, did extensive research on Whatley.
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“CSA has been an important part in the growth of the local food movement therefore, it’s imperative for the public to know that the roots of this very important development of farms came from an African-American farmer,” Friedrich says.
Friedrich anticipates reopening Urban Oasis' farmers' markets at Legion Park and the Arsht Center the weekend of October 24, and in South Miami and Vizcaya on November 7.
“We’re excited to get the physical markets back open but even when they do, we plan to keep the online market as long as people keep ordering and, of course, keep up the CSA Program,” says the Urban Oasis cofounder.
Order an Urban Oasis CSA box at urbanoasisproject.org.