Greenmarket and the Urbanscape

Robert J. Kafin, Chair of GrowNYC.

Robert J. Kafin, Chair of GrowNYC.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” May that always be so, but it is equally true today that for many New Yorkers spring also turns thoughts to Greenmarket, a collection of producer-only farmers markets that now blanket the City.

The first Greenmarket opened in July 1976 in a lot on Second Avenue at the Manhattan end of the Queensboro Bridge. Seven farmers sold produce at a once-a-week pop-up fair during the late summer season. Today’s Greenmarket has grown into a year-around program with 54 retail markets in all five Boroughs, where 230 family farms and fisherman from seven states bring regionally produced foods for sale to consumers.

The primary objectives of Greenmarkets are to promote regional agriculture by providing urban retail outlets for family farms, and to provide consumers in the City with convenient access to fresh, locally-produced foods. The 54 Greenmarkets occupy a diverse set of spaces, ranging from the great open plazas in Union Square to indoor spaces at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown and the Staten Island Ferry Terminals. Greenmarkets are also located on wide sidewalks on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills and along Columbus Avenue behind the American Museum of Natural History, in church yards such as St. Stephen’s on East 82nd Street in Manhattan, in temporarily closed streets like Union Avenue beside McCarren Park in Brooklyn, and in parking lots such as the one at the Staten Island Mall.

Wherever they are, the Greenmarkets serve a village square function filling a traditional need in human societies for safe, comfortable places for the community to gather and engage in everyday activities. In New York City many public spaces are dominated by motorized vehicles and anonymity. Greenmarkets create an environment in the midst of the big city where walking, face to face encounters, leisurely trade, visiting with others and the like can take place on a neighborhood scale.

Greenmarket map-SM

Greenmarket 2013 map

Greenmarkets also produce ancillary beneficial impacts on the communities in which they operate and on their surrounding neighborhoods. The McCarren Park Greenmarket in Williamsburg Brooklyn is a good example of the ripple effect on neighborhood character a retail farmers market can have. The market is open on Saturdays year-around and operates at the junction of a quickly modernizing Williamsburg community and the more traditional Greenpoint neighborhood. On market day the focus is on the market, which has expanded to include cooking demonstrations, musical performances by local artists, collecting of food scraps for composting, and textile recycling. In addition, all types of family friendly activities take place in the park and on the streets around the market which energizes the whole neighborhood and provides vibrancy to the surrounding area. Around this core one can see changes in street level uses with restaurants, shops, outdoor seating areas, a community garden, public art and more intensive park activities that have been attracted to the area to take advantage of the attention drawn to it by the Greenmarket.

A similar expansion occurred at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket on 34th Ave at 77th Street in Queens. There the nearby Friends of Travers Park have designated 78th a “playstreet” where they host lively events each market day using the lure of the open air farmers market to bring people to the Park and its vicinity for a community get-together. Throughout the City other Greenmarkets have had similar effects on their environs.

Community sponsorship is important both to the integration of a Greenmarket into the neighborhood life of its location and to inspire nearby complementary uses. Site selection for additional Greenmarkets favors places where there is a nonprofit organization, religious institution, business improvement district or another committee willing to partner in setting up and providing continuing support for a market in a visible spot accessible to foot traffic, but where farmers’ trucks can also come and park. We welcome suggestions for additional Greenmarket locations.

Twenty-two of the Greenmarkets are now open year-around, thus waiting until spring is no longer necessary for hard-core locavores. But, there is nothing like the coming of spring when the root vegetables and orchard products that have sustained us through the winter give way to what comes in May: asparagus, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, ramps, scallions, spinach, sweet peas, mesclun, and beet and turnip greens. The first 2013 maple syrup has just arrived. With the kidding season comes fresh goat cheese, and spring is also the season for blue Araucana eggs.

– Robert J. Kafin is Chair of GrowNYC. Greenmarket is a program of GrowNYC, which was formerly called the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC). It is a nonprofit organization that also manages other environmental programs, including waste recycling, community gardens and environmental education.

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