Raydonna Biles makes lunch for her son every day.

It keeps them both healthy.

Raydonna Biles

“I cook better for him than I would for myself alone. … Last time I went to the doctor, the doctor said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ My blood sugar was down. I’d lost weight.”

Good health news is a big part of what the Clinton (MO) Public Housing Authority hopes for Raydonna Biles and other residents through its participation again this year in West Central Missouri Community Action Agency’s Farm SHARE program.

Each month in summer and fall, Ms. Biles and other participating residents at 150-unit Katy Trail Estates pick up a grocery bag full of farm fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs.

It’s a way to supplement tight budgets and get summer bounty to families, seniors and individuals with disabilities who live at Katy Trail, said Executive Director Lisa Irick.

It’s also a way to build local economies with business for family farms, said Katie Nixon, director of West Central’s Food Systems program. It adds up because Katy Trail is one of 11 affordable housing properties that offer the Farm SHARE program this year to residents; another is in Raymore and nine are in the Kansas City area. The Horizon Housing Foundation is an organization that provides tenant services to properties financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Horizon pays for the farm food ($15 per bag) and for the work of pulling it together.

Produce and eggs for West Central’s recent June 17, 2020, Katy Trail distribution of 55 Farm SHARE bags came from within 100 miles of Clinton, Nixon said. Area farms with products in the bags were Moyer Farm (Richmond), Mast Family Farm (Windsor), Vernon County Produce (Rich Hill), and Moon on the Meadow (Lawrence, KS).

“The Farm Share program is another outlet for the food these farms are growing and harvesting every day,” Nixon said.

The Farm SHARE collaboration of farmers, buyers, and supporters like West Central is expanding as a way to build up local food supply in the region with new farm-to-fork connections. The program, now in year two, has grown from two sites in 2019 after an ongoing original program in Vernon County, led by Healthy Nevada and the Nevada-Vernon County Farmers Market, forged the model.

West Central sources the local food for two of the 11 sites primarily through a cooperative of 19 area farms, which market together as the Kansas City Food Hub. The Hub manages the remaining Farm SHARE distributions in the Kansas City area.

Farm SHARE builds on shared benefits among farmers, eaters, and communities.

Katy Trail residents Roxanne Paschal and daughters Ireland, 15, and Kimberly, 13, said Farm SHARE’s local produce is valuable to them in many ways.

The joy of eating farm fresh food is one. Tomato sandwiches and zucchini cooked just tender are among their favorites. Daughter Ireland especially loves the onions, Roxanne Paschal said.

Roxanne Paschal with daughters Kimberly, left, and Ireland, right.

Another thing they like is how the local produce lasts longer, she said. “A lot of times, lettuce you get from the store goes bad in a day or two.”

Shelf life is a big consideration for the family because buying fresh produce is sometimes just out of the question, she said. The Paschals will often forgo higher priced fresh produce for canned vegetables, even though canned vegetables’ higher sodium levels come with a health cost.

“It’s hard, especially now with meat prices sky high,” Roxanne Paschal said.

Enjoying fresh produce, and learning how to use it, can benefit people all their lives, too.

Raydonna Biles told how she started cooking at the age of 12 when her mother joined her father working at the shoe factory in Windsor.

A published poet and contributor to the Lowry City-based Missouri Chigger magazine, Biles said she’s still learning how to cook.

The Spanish rice dish Paella is one of her recent culinary adventures.

And though it may not be quite so healthy, with bacon grease involved, Biles said with a grin that she likes making down home wilted lettuce with summer’s fresh produce, too.

To participate in Farm SHARE as a buyer or supplier, please contact West Central’s Food Systems Director Katie Nixon, knixon @ wcmcaa.org.

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