Local Farmers Markets Broaden Choice for Shoppers
By HEATHER HADDON
Three weekly local options for farm-fresh produce - the New York Botanical Garden's Seasonal Farmers Market, the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center's (MMCC) organic food co-op and the Poe Park Greenmarket - all offer country fresh produce and other goods to city dwellers and provide an increasingly popular seasonal alternative to delis and supermarkets.
In urban areas, finding fresh food is no easy undertaking. "With the exception of higher end supermarkets, the quality of fresh produce is poor," says Tony Mannetta, director of Greenmarket, a citywide program.
Here's a little tour of the cornucopia of fresh produce now available in our community.
Bounty at the Botanical Garden
Located in the cool shade of the Mosholu gate entrance, the farmers market at the New York Botanical Garden is the area's newest. Launched in June, around 10 farmers and vendors travel here to set up stands on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The products range from organic produce and jams to handmade soaps and fresh-cut flowers.
"This is a great market, it has a real neighborhood feel to it," says Nancy Evans from Conklin Apiaries as she stands behind a table brimming with honeys, candies, jams and breads.
"People are coming more and more," says Marie Mouiren of Upstate Farms, who sells lettuce, cheeses and yogurt.
Mary Finn has been coming steadily to the market during its season - from June until October - all the way from Astoria, Queens to pick out corn, tomatoes and wine.
"These peaches are to die for," she shouts across a fruit and pie stand.
The beauty of the market's surroundings makes it a spot where families congregate and shoppers eat their just purchased products on benches.
"I ate the raspberries already," says Woodlawn resident Alli Irish, who carried bags brimming with fruits, eggs and vegetables despite being over nine months pregnant. "This is a great alternative to the regular delis and supermarkets," added Irish, who opts for fresher produce to better nourish her baby.
Organic Straight From the Farm
The produce couldn't get fresher than the just picked vegetables and fruits at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center's organic food co-op. In operation for the last three years, co-op participants pay in advance for 12 weeks of freshly delivered items from an upstate farmer. Employing the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, the co-op helps urban dwellers eat fresher and small farmers stay afloat. The CSA concept was founded by a group of Japanese women concerned about pesticides, and was brought to the U.S. in 1984. There are 26 CSA co-ops in the city.
The MMCC partnering farm, Little Seed grows organically - without the use of pesticides or other chemicals. Many researchers believe that organic foods help to avoid many diseases, including cancer.
Yet organic food can be hard to find, and extremely expensive, at urban supermarkets. At $275 for the season - roughly $3 a day - the MMCC co-op provides both convenience and savings.
"It's still dirty when it gets here," said Fran Namzoff, the co-op coordinator at MMCC, of the fresh shipment. "It wasn't sitting in a warehouse somewhere."
Janet Norquist, now in her second season of participation, goes to the co-op for both these reasons. But she also appreciates having a relationship with the people who grew her food. "It's cool to know your farmer," she says, just after fetching her fresh food.
Starting around 4 p.m., the approximately 40 co-op members trickle into the parking lot behind the Center to pick up their week's share. On a recent Tuesday, the menu includes arugula, tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce, and also fruits for those who pay $30 extra.
Joe Miller of Riverdale often volunteers at the pick-up point to help people gather their share. "This produce reminds me of growing up on a farm," says Miller, originally from the Catskills. Co-op participants are asked to help twice during the season.
Miller helps Lenore Gladstone bag her goods. "It's fantastic," says Gladstone, a doctor originally from South Africa. "There's the excitement of never knowing what you're going to get."
Endless Produce at Poe Park
Even before the farmers arrive at 7:30 a.m., there are already very eager Bronx residents waiting to get their choice of produce at the Poe Park Greenmarket on 192nd Street just off the Grand Concourse. Once the market hits its noontime peak, there is hardly room to walk in the narrow strip where some eight stalls serve up fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses and baked goods to a steady stream of customers.
Starting in July, vendors travel a distance - up to four hours from Pennsylvania's Amish country - to sell goods every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Operating since the mid-1980s, the market has become one of the highest grossing of the over 20 markets citywide that are run by the Greenmarket organization.
"We pack the truck full and usually sell most of it," says Gary Glowazcewski, a farmer from Orange County whose tables spanning 60 feet are packed with vegetables.
Lifetime farmer Jon Schmid is also pleased by the business. "People buy with their stomachs, not their eyes here," he says.
Schmid and other farmers are cultivating new crops to cater to different ethnic food preferences, matching the rainbow of produce to the diversity of customers. Yasuko Kishimoto marvels at the size of eggplants here in comparison to the ones in Japan, her country of origin. Amada Nabarrete, originally from Mexico, comes to the market for special herbs she can't find in local supermarkets. She makes everything from salad and salsa to candy from products she buys.
Marta Ortiz, a mother of three who lives nearby, appreciates the variety. "If I didn't come here, I wouldn't eat all these kinds of vegetables and fruits," she says.
Ortiz, like some 80 percent of the other Poe Park customers, uses coupons from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The government benefit helps low-income families eat healthier. "[The checks] make it easy to buy from here," Ortiz says.
The market is a community and family affair. Many farmers see return customers.
Mothers bring their children to play, or to help carry their many bags. Ortiz brings her mother, Brigilda Torres.
Torres comes to the market simply because, she says, "it's fresh."
Islands of Freshness
When consumers at all three markets were asked how this produce measures up to what they find at local stores, the overwhelming feeling was that there is no comparison.
In addition to fresh produce, the markets offer information about how to consume better food. The Greenmarkets have cooking demonstrations to help shoppers learn about easy, healthful eating. The farmers who supply the organic food co-op circulate weekly recipes to members.
Schmid likes to introduce people to vegetables they might never have seen before. "I like to help people know what's good," says Schmid, who has worked at Poe Park since 1988. "Once they've tried our produce, they'll come back."
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