IN BEACON, 47 PERCENT of the students enrolled in the city’s six schools are eligible for reduced-price or free meals. According to a 2010 national Feeding America study, 76 percent of the households served by New York’s emergency programs are “food insecure” and 39 percent receive food stamps.
Margot Schulman, a local natural foods chef, caterer and holistic health counselor, is tackling the issue head-on at the Fareground Community Café, in Beacon. Launched four years ago, the pop-up café offers multi-course, home-cooked meals using a “pay-what-you-can” system: Customers who cannot afford to pay the suggested value of the meal ($10) are encouraged to volunteer, and those with a bit of extra cash are encouraged to pay it forward for another person’s food. The café is staffed by volunteers; most of the ingredients are offered at deep discount.
“We’re not serving food that other people don’t want,” Schulman says. “We’re using the Hudson Valley’s wonderful bounty in our kitchen—fresh, local and organic when possible. It’s food that I would make for anybody.”
Fareground is one of a growing number of similar non-profit community cafés in the United States. Schulman and Fareground co-founder Kara Marie Dean-Assael are in the final stages of securing 501(c)(3) non-profit status for the operation and are looking for a permanent site—thus far they have been serving meals wherever they can secure donated space.
“Fareground is about recognizing there are lots of different ways to pay for something—this is not just about a free meal,” Schulman stresses. “We’re also about respecting the fact that most people don’t want a handout, but want to be able to give something back and be appreciated for what they do have.”