National Farmers Market Week (August 2–8, 2015) is a week-long celebration of our nation’s farmers markets, the farmers and ranchers who make them possible, and the communities that host them. This year marks the 16th annual National Farmers Market Week recognizing the important role that farmers markets play in our local food economies. A perfect example of a model farm market that really gives back to the community is the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market, a project in partnership with the City of New Brunswick, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and Johnson & Johnson.
For New Brunswick Community Farmers Market, “community” really is their middle name. Besides bringing New Jersey farm fresh produce into urban New Brunswick, the market hosts a number of ways for residents to grow their own and connect with fresh local food.
Senior Program Coordinator Sarah Dixon describes how the market enables residents to obtain fresh food. “The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market was started in 2009 to offer New Brunswick residents – especially those at risk for food insecurity – access to fresh, locally grown, affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate produce and other food products. Whenever you spend any kind of nutrition assistance dollars with us (such as WIC or SNAP) we give half back in Market Bucks to help stretch food budgets to include Jersey Fresh produce during the harvest season.” The market is more than a just vending location. Dixon continues, “Our home base on Jones Avenue started as a 36 raised-bed community garden, and has grown over the years to include a children’s garden, lots of additional growing spaces, hoop houses, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, beehives, and a vermicomposting bin. The gardens are grown and maintained by the community, with frequent volunteer support.”
While New Brunswick residents participate in the hustle and bustle on market days in the three locations of the market in New Brunswick, volunteers are extending the market’s reach further into the community, including the schools. Through the efforts of FoodCorps New Jersey member Thalya Reyes, more kids around New Brunswick have the opportunity to grow food. FoodCorps work in New Brunswick is through a partnership with New Brunswick Community Farmers Market (NBCFM), Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and the New Jersey Farm to School Network. To amplify children’s summer programming at the NBCFM and to get urban gardening launched at a number of New Brunswick schools and preschools, Reyes initiated the summer efforts with the purchase of garden construction materials from Home Depot.
Covering a range of grade levels, Reyes got gardens started at a number of school sites: New Brunswick Middle School was gifted three raised garden beds and a large oak barrel. “The school’s Environmental Club, made up of mostly sixth and seventh graders, transplanted potato seedlings and are excited for potatoes in the fall,” reported Reyes. New Brunswick High School received a large storage shed donation which will be put into use after the summer.
Three Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) preschool sites have benefitted from the program’s support. The site at Raritan Gardens was donated three raised beds, a vertical storage shed, and gardening soil, so that the garden will be ready for fall when students return. The Joyce Kilmer and St. Ladislaus sites have three large oak barrels and along with soil and compost donations from Reyes and they are now filled with native flowers to support local pollinators along with fresh herbs and veggies.
For the market’s summer programming, garden tools, storage sheds, a Play-zee-bo (children’s gazeebo) and children’s garden kits were purchased. Reyes commented, “The children’s garden (Tierra de Niños) at the NBCFM Jones Avenue location is looking as beautiful as ever with these welcome additions. Thanks to these welcome donations, more kids in New Brunswick are connected to their food and are looking forward to enjoying their outdoor growing spaces in the coming months.”
Also at the Jones Avenue market location, at the end of July, Reyes hosted 91 preschoolers, staff, and parents from YES Catholic Charities Early Learning Center on Commercial Avenue for a fun morning of food activities. Reyes said, “Students played games in the market’s children’s gardens, got acquainted with our feathered friends, and taste tested local blueberries from Hammonton. Parents and staff were wonderful assistants to the activities and received Market Bucks to use at NBCFM’s locations. Students left full of energy and with a nectarine in hand!”
Carly Westling, New Jersey FoodCorps Fellow who is finishing her role coordinating the state program, commented on the program’s integration with the Market. “FoodCorps is so excited to be partnering with the NBCFM to serve the New Brunswick Community. The market is the one of our ten service sites around the state that is truly “access” oriented: They provide the local community with access to affordable, healthy, local food, which is one of the three pillars of FoodCorps’ work. As this first year of our partnership comes to a close, we are celebrating all that Thalya has been able to accomplish this year and enthusiastically planning to build on her work for next year.”
Dixon sums up the market’s multi-faceted efforts. “We strive to address multiple barriers to healthy food intake by offering access to healthy food, providing education about nutrition and how to prepare food healthfully, and engaging kids and residents through gardening and community events and activities. We’ve been thrilled to be able to offer FoodCorps’ Farm to School “boots on the ground” support to schools and the families we garden with, cook with, and see at the market.”