Chester Housing Authority

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Delaware County Daily Times: Home-grown fare to feed the people of Chester

Come springtime the Fare & Square in Chester will begin selling locally grown fruits and vegetables that were grown at the Ruth L. Bennett Homes Community Garden thanks to a new partnership announced last week."Where will you run into a housing authority that supplies a grocery store," said Steve Fischer, the executive director of the CHA. 

Fischer and Normal Wise, director of housing operations, spoke from the community gardens that in a decade has grown into full-fledged 2-acre, year-round farm. A greenhouse built in the last year enables broccoli and collard greens to grow throughout the winter."It's a pretty unique and awesome thing to come out of Chester," Wise said.The garden has been a place for neighbors to plant and grow crops, with one full-time CHA employee who manages the garden.

Through the financial partnership with Fare & Square, which will buy the crops from the CHA, the housing authority will hire part-time employees to help tend the garden"We think that Chester consumers will appreciate finding locally grown produce in their store, knowing that they're supporting the local economy and people they know who've grown the food," Fischer said in the press release.Mike Basher, the vice president of retail operations at Fare and Square, said the nonprofit grocery aims to be a "community hub" where people meet and organize."We wanted to make a place for Chester folks to help other Chester folks, to make a family from within the community," Bascher said.

He added that when the first crop of broccoli and collard greens will be prominently displayed in the store with information so people know "it's from their own community.""There might be severe demand for it, but that would be a happy problem to have," Basher said. "I have a feeling (the produce) will be flying off the shelves."Wise said he expects people who buy the locally harvested produce will "take ownership" of the community-based programs.

People will see the food was grown at Ruth L. Bennett Homes and will strike a point of pride for shoppers."They'll think, "I live there ... it's in my backyard, Wise said.Fischer said the health movement in recent history has propelled the need for housing authorities to act as social service providers, whereas the CHA also offers instruction in exercise and nutrition.T"We're not just housing people, we're leading them to healthier lifestyles," Fischer said.

"We're hoping this can be a springboard to a better life."Fischer and Wise agreed that having the programs the CHA offers has had a positive impact on the people who volunteer their time."You typically find that it's the kids who are more engaged from the start, they see it as fun, and then the parents will trickle into the programs," Wise said. "The kids will say, 'Do you know what arugula is?' or say, 'We made pesto today,' and then the parents will want to join in.""It's community involved — growing it here, cooking it here."