Corps Story: Civic Works and Food Access

Civic Works is providing solutions to inequal food access within Healthy Food Priority Areas in Baltimore, MD. They are working against food inequity by creating a more sustainable, economically viable, environmentally responsible agriculture sector. Civic Works both grows their own produce at Real Food Farm as well as partners with local farms to source and provide fresh produce to seniors and others in the community. They currently average about 5,000 deliveries a year and have distributed 53,000 pounds of produce since October 2020. 

At any time, there are a few Civic Works AmeriCorps members serving alongside rotating volunteers to make weekly food deliveries through two programs. The Affordable Produce Delivery Program brings food to seniors in the community ages 55+. Each box contains $15-20 worth of produce, but customers only pay $5. If they don’t have available funds, they get their box for free. The small fee assists in fighting the stigma of receiving a free handout. This program’s capacity reaches 120 people on a weekly basis. A second initiative, the Corps’ Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, sells full-price produce and feeds 75-100 people weekly. 

The Process

A week as a Civic Works Corpsmember or volunteer includes taking down customer information and orders through calls and voicemails on Mondays, packing food boxes on Wednesdays, and making deliveries on Fridays. To ensure they have the amount of food needed each week, additional food is ordered from local farms within a 100-mile radius. 

At certain times of the year, Civic Works targets fulfilling other local food access and agriculture projects. These efforts include bringing produce to farmer’s markets; helping create more urban farms; restoring soil conditions; composting, and compost outreach; and assisting in transforming vacant and abandoned lots into community gardens and green space. Civic Works has grown 200,000 pounds of fresh produce and planted 25,000 trees. The Corps’ goal is to be a launching point for other farms and to be a place where other farms can come for help with logistics. 

The Impact

AmeriCorps member Harper Czumak-Daugherty began working with the program as a volunteer delivery driver and soon became more involved. They say food isn’t the only thing the seniors are hungry for. 

“Every time I interact with people that we deliver to, whether it’s in that verifying information stage or I’m actually at their door with the food, people are so appreciative. There is such a need for this. Especially the seniors, during the pandemic: a lot of them can’t get out to grocery stores,” said Czumak-Daugherty. “A lot of times they’re not getting a ton of other contact and they’re so hungry for that interaction, they’re so grateful. It’s also that these are our neighbors, so it’s satisfying to be able to be there for them.”  

Besides helping the community by bringing healthy food to the area, the Corpsmembers themselves are benefitting from workforce development. Corpsmembers are offered support and guidance through creating a five-year plan with Corps staff and leaders. They also receive an AmeriCorps education award at the end of their term.  There are many learning opportunities presented like networking, resume reviews, practice interviews, and a work environment in a historical building that is being preserved and is also open to the community. Program alum have gone on to work on other farms, started small businesses, painted community murals, and more. Czumak-Daugherty intends to use their education award towards grad school. 

Looking Forward

Logistics are often the most challenging part of the program. Civic Work hopes to grow in space and resources to be able to reach more people in the community. The program hopes to expand from 5,000 deliveries a year to 20,000 deliveries with more funding. For this reason, the Corps is applying for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for 2022-2024.  

Czumak-Daugherty reflects on their time working in the program: 

“I’ve been really grateful for my time here. There’s been so many learning opportunities, so much personal growth. This is also the first job I’ve been able to use my they/them pronouns. It’s a really amazing team, a really amazing program, and I’m really honored I get to be a part of it.”