Building Community Art Inc., a non-profit project based in the Shaw area, has developed a 25-Cent Market Club that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and staples to its members for 25 cents per two pounds.
The organization grows much of the food it provides for its members, most of whom live in the District's poorest neighborhoods.The club also has members in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
Last summer, BCA employed elderly retired farmers and teenagers to farm two sites in Maryland that were donated to the organization. The farmers were paid with the help of a federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) grant.
BCA will expand its food growing and distribution program this year with the acquisition of a 104-acre farm in West Virginia which, with its other sites, will be large enough to produce food for more than 30,000 people.
Since the club was founded in 1975, it has enabled members to purchase onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, kale, greens and other fresh fruits and vegetables for 25 cents for two pounds. Oranges and apples are three for 25 cents and lettuce sells for 25 cents a head. The prices never change.
Anyone is eligible to join. Members pay a one-time fee of 25 cents and $1.50 per month dues, which are paid in one sum for the remainder of the year at the time of joining. The club accepts food stamps.
Each week members pre-order and pre-pay for groceries. Orders can be picked up between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. the following Saturday at BCA's central headquarters at 625 Q St., NW. Besides the Q St. location, BCA has 30 satellite delivery stations in areas where at least 10 Market Club members are concentrated. Local members select one house as a distribution point and volunteers pick up the orders and distribute the food on Saturdays. There is an additional charge of 25 cents per week for this service.
"Our goal in 1977-78 is to establish at least one satellite center in each of D.C.'s 91 poorest neighborhoods" said Robert J. Abrams, BCA's founder and coordinator.
Some of the satellite centers are located in public housing projects at Eastgate, Stanton Houses, Capitol View and other areas of the city.
At the end of its first full year of operation in 1976, the market club had more than 3,000 members and had distributed more than 100 tons of food to about 30,000 persons. In 1977, the club had more than 4,000 members and delivered more than 175 tons of food.
Mary Hopkins of Southeast Washington has belonged to the market club since early last year. She said the prices "really helped reduce our grocery bills." Hopkins said that she was "very pleased" with the quality and price of the produce and that she often bought greens and other products in bulk and froze them for use at a later date.
"Building Community Art's purpose is to design and develop alternative basic life need delivery systems," said Abrams. He cites "91 neighborhoods in the District of Columbia, with a total population of over 100,000," where "there is the highest incidence and frequency (in the city) of disease and deaths related to inadequate food. . ."
He said that the incidence of malnutrition associated diseases has been documented by private and Department of Human Resources studies.
To combat these ills, BCA has three divisions that deal with food growth and distribution. Besides the 25-cent Market Club, it has a farm division and is developing a food processing center. BCA also sponsors a health center on East Capitol Street.
Eventually, BCA's entire food operation from planting, growing, harvesting, processing and distribution, will be undertaken by the members, according to Abrams who said that, "These systems are designed to be cooperatively self-supporting."
Although BCA was not incorporated until 1973, it came to Shaw in 1969. That area then had high crime and mortality rates. "These people were the most severely deprived," said Abrams.
Thomas Ellis, BCA's senior farmer for two years, started three growing projects on vacant lots at 5th and O Streets NW, H Street NW, and 9th Street NW, in 1975. Last year he headed BCA's 20-acre growing project in Olney, Md., and next year he will oversee the operations at the new West Virginia location if efforts to buy the farm there are successful.
Ellis, who has been a farmer for 37 of his 76 years, came to Washington from North Carolina in 1949 and worked as a truck driver. He feels the market club "is a good idea because it helps a lot of poor people."
Last summer Rabbi Eugene Litman of the Reformed Congregation of Sinai donated the 20-acre tract in Olney, and a 30-acre plot in Chesapeake Beach, Md. The congregation also made financial contributions for seeds and farming tools, Abrams said.
"We farmed both of those areas this summer and had a successful crop of 10 to 12 tons of produce," Abrams said.
Loyola Retreat House in Maryland has also donated a parcel of land for BCA's indefinite use.
About 25 bushels of surplus food grown last year was sold to Stone Soup, a non-profit food store in the Adams Morgan area of D.C. BCA expects to have a surplus of 10 to 15 tons of vegetables this year from its West Virginia farm, which it will sell to non-profit and cooperative food outlets.
Information about the 25-Cent Food Club can be obtained by calling 234-6877.