Getting fresh: The South Bronx Farmers Market delivers produce & inspiration

With our partner the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to announce the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York state who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.

Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including the one we’re profiling below) will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $250 per donation by NYSHealth until May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health across New York!

“I don’t consider myself a community leader—though I do aspire to that—but I’ve been in the food movement for a good while, and have been exposed to a lot of different leaders and projects,” says Jorge Cubas, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign South Bronx Farmers Market – New Market Day and one of the market’s board members. “I’ve found that the most resilient projects are resident-led. They’re endeavors of passion. The South Bronx Farmers Market is an excellent example of that.”

Trinity Farms

The South Bronx Farmers Market (SBFM), now entering its fourth season, is the only farmers market in the neighborhood of Mott Haven: the poorest congressional district in the country, where almost fifty percent of children live below the poverty line. Its founder, Lily Kesselman, and a small team of mostly volunteer staff are on a mission to address the area’s public health crises—in particular obesity, diabetes, and undernourishment—by providing residents better access to nutritious, affordable, locally grown foods, and free, bilingual demonstrations for kids and adults about ways to prepare it. On average, around forty percent of funds spent at the market come through one or more of NYC’s food subsidy programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (the assistance program for Women, Infants, and Children). Last season, SBFM markets facilitated over $10,000 in SNAP purchases.

“Giving our community a way to find locally grown, nutritious food and showing them different ways to experience it will make a real, positive health impact here,” Jorge says. “We know our farmers are not always going to be able to grow foods that are familiar to our community—the things they would find at home if they came here from another country—so our demonstration chefs help show them what to do.”

SBFM’s ioby campaign is raising money to extend their hours of operation to include a weekly Wednesday market in addition to the Saturday hours they’re already open. Funds will cover costs like printing flyers, banners, and posters to advertise the new day, as well as living wages for two part-time staffers. Customers—many of whom work on weekends—have requested the extra midweek day, and Jorge and Lily are happy to oblige.

Lily lives in the South Bronx; Jorge was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens—a neighborhood he finds similar in some ways to Mott Haven. “They’re both very diverse places with a lot of immigrants—like my parents,” he says. For several years, Jorge worked in operations at Just Food; he met Lily when she participated in a community food project training program there. “From that time on, I’ve always admired her work,” he says. “She’s been very inspiring and tenacious and has made the South Bronx Farmers Market as successful as it is. It’s very difficult work. It requires a real leader, and Lily is just that.”

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“You walk in some areas of Brooklyn or Queens, and of course Manhattan, and it’s not difficult to find a farmers market,” Jorge says. “That’s much less the case in the Bronx. This area has a history of being ‘drowned out’ in city decision making.”

Lily relates the story of FreshDirect, which she says recently struck a deal with the city to lease space on state-owned waterfront land in the South Bronx. Their operations will bring a sharp increase in diesel truck traffic through the neighborhood, which already suffers from some of the highest asthma rates in the country. “Our community was notified of this ‘deal’ after the lease was signed and money had been approved,” she says. “FreshDirect aims to push out small brick-and-mortar businesses and will be exempt from any living wage laws in the future. So our tax dollars are pushing out our own small businesses and funding additional pollution that will affect our families.

“My personal challenge,” she continues, “was: How can we set up a community-led resource that helps bring fresh and local food directly to the tables of our residents? How can we bring in more sustainably farmed and raised food without harming our residents and also keep it affordable? How can residents who rely on food subsidies eat better without going to another community for food? Our market helps solve many of these problems.”

In the future, SBFM would like to expand its value-added offerings (like locally made pickles, baked goods, and crafts), grow to support additional farmers and food companies, and host an indoor market in the winter so residents can access fresh local food year round.  

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Jorge invites visitors to the market to give their feedback—”Let us know what you’d like to see!”—and says volunteer help is always needed and appreciated. “A big part of doing this is mentorship,” he says. “We take the time and effort to make volunteering here a meaningful experience for people.”

“The political climate is such that we’re all agonizing over ways to boost one another and feel more connected,” he adds. “It’s part of my philosophy, and Lily’s, that ‘helping’ is not as useful as feeling invested in a movement or endeavor. If you have a network and invest in it, you have a pretty powerful tool to drive the needle in your direction.“

In 2017, the South Bronx Farmers Market will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays from June 17 to November 22, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. They’re located on the south side of 138th Street, between Willis and Alexander Avenues in Mott Haven, near the 3rd Avenue/138th Street subway station on the 6 train.