A Holistic Marketplace

Tackling the Grocery Gap the Greenmarket Way

by: Amanda Kay Mannshahia

Photos by: Grow NYC

We cannot discuss fresh food access in NYC without mentioning Greenmarket. Established in 1976, Greenmarket boasts one of the largest outdoor farmers markets at Union Square along with weekly pop-up markets in 53 locations all over NYC.

A program of Grow NYC, a privately funded non-profit organization, Greenmarkets mission is twofold says Laura McDonald, the programs Communication Specialist. “Our goal is to preserve the regions farmland and increase access to fresh produce. We are here to make sure the region is protected for generations to come.”

Encouraging the consumer to “ask the farmer,” the market is not only pushing for greater behavioral change around personal health but for an increasing awareness around the health of the surrounding environment and community. “Being able to talk and make a connection with the person that grows your food is invaluable, you don’t get that in any traditional market.”

Greenmarket Farmers Market in Union Square

It can be said that the program is setting a national model for tackling issues around sustainability in the urban arena. In addition to their weekly markets, Greenmarket offers a host of programming specifically targeted to some of NYC’s most vulnerable populations: the youth and the underserved.

Take their Youthmarket and Seed to Plate programs. Youthmarket, McDonald tells us, “Is designed for neighborhoods where markets aren’t viable, we purchase produce from local farmers and employ neighborhood youth to operate a farm stand as their own small business.” Linking regional farmers with underserved communities, Youthmarket seeks to overcome problems around diet-related disease while helping farmers to achieve higher revenue through access to previously untapped markets.

The Seed to Plate program, on the other hand, aims to educate youth about the local food system. Set to a 5th & 6th grade curriculum, the 12-week program was designed in collaboration with the Center for Food and the Environment at Teachers College Columbia University. “Here we are teaching kids how food goes from seed to plate through various interactive lessons, including a tour of Greenmarket and a nearby farm, classroom visits from farmers and chefs, along with hands on preparations of healthy foods.”

In addition to their commitment to local youth, Greenmarket also runs its own CSA program as a direct response to issues of food access and affordability. The Fresh Food Box, or WinterBox, program increases food access to the underserved without a long-term commitment. Participants sign up the week before and pay 12 dollars a box, they then come back next week for their produce and choose whether or not to sign up for the following week.

Using a holistic approach, Greenmarket and Grow NYC are redefining the role of farmers markets in fighting the food gap. Their youth focused and food box programs are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a host of other programs providing business technical assistance to farmers, FARMroots, donating produce to food pantries, the Fresh Pantry Project, and pioneering the local grains movement, the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project, to name a few.

You can find out more about Greenmarket and its host of programs at grownyc.org or take a look at their new Union Square Greenmarket App to see what’s in season now!

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