Apples on Alexander
New South Bronx farmers market opens
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Other boroughs rely on trees growing within.
In the Bronx, it’s an entire farmers market.
Business was booming at the latest green oasis to have sprung up in the borough this past Sat., Jun. 14th.
Located on 138th Street between Willis and Alexander Avenues, the market was founded by Roseanne Placencia and Lily Kesselman. The duo were committed to livening up what amounted to a food desert with little access to fresh produce—despite being next door to the Hunts Point Terminal Market, where thousands of pounds of food are shipped every day.
The market was started with a $3,000 grant from the Citizen’s Committee of New York, and is run by City Farms Markets, a network of community-run farmers markets.
Among some of the visitors on Saturday were City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bronx-born celebrity chef Baron Ambrosia, as well as Gardenia Vizcaino.
Vizcaino was happy to find some nettle tea and parsley.
Nettle tea is said by some to be helpful for diabetics, so Vizcaino, who is pre-diabetic, wanted to give it a try.
Vizcaino said the market, with its fresh herbs and vegetables, was a welcome sight in the community.
“Here many people are sick, and this helps,” she said.
Mili Bonilla, who lives in Parkchester, found out about the market on Twitter and came prepared with a reusable bag.
She said the produce at her local grocery store is below satisfactory.
“Their produce, it’s the worst. It just looks like the rejects that have been sent our way,” she said.
“I was going to get some kale. You can’t find good kale at the supermarket.”
She said she happy to know that she would no longer need to travel all the way to Union Square for fresh, local produce.
The South Bronx Farmers Market debuted with three booths, but organizers expect it to grow throughout the summer, and there are plans to include produce from the neighborhood’s own local farm, La Finca del Sur.
Wassaic Community Farms was one of the vendors on site on Saturday, and its team was caught off guard by the huge demand for local produce.
“It was successful; we should have packed more,” said Tender Tompkins, an intern working with the farm.
“It’s huge to have something fresh in this neighborhood,” said Yajaira Saavedra, who sold hibiscus tea at the market.
Saavedra’s family owns the nearby Casa Morada, which is well known for its chilaquiles and other Mexican specialties. But at the market Saavedra wanted to highlight the healthier offerings of her national cuisine.
The hibiscus tea, for instance, was sweetened with Agave instead of sugar. Next week, they want to add guacamole to the menu.
Having grown up in the Bronx, founder Placencia experienced the shortage of fresh produce firsthand.
When she decided to be a vegetarian, she would need to take trips to upstate farms for vegetables and fruits. Those excursions opened her eyes.
“I knew there was a difference,” she said. “But once I knew there were options, I realized that what we have here is ludicrous.”
“There’s a big need for fresh food here. The food goes to Hunts Point, yet you can’t get farm fresh food in the neighborhood.”
Kesselman remembered people’s reactions when she put up flyers for the market.
“Everyone said, ‘Finally! We need this.’”
The demand was evident.
Shortly after noon, Wassaic Community Farms sold out of radishes, Swiss chard, burdock root and kale, and their mint, sassafras and burdock teas were gone too.
The highest demand was for the burdock root tea, which tastes mildly earthy. The tea is said to stabilize blood sugars.
“More people are buying it here for its health benefits,” said Ben Schwartz, who runs Wassaic Community Farms.
It was definitely for such advantages that Oda Jiberto had loaded up on parsley and chives, both alkaline vegetables intended to help with her eczema.
“It works!” she declared. “Now I need many vegetables.”
Jilberto said was glad she did not have to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s like she normally does.
Not all merchandise was edible—yet.
Also on sale were a number of plants, including tomato and eggplant.
Luis Méndez grabbed four tomato plants before heading to work on the subway.
He lives nearby with his girlfriend and their apartment has a plot of land
Méndez used to grow tomatoes in his yard in his native Boston.
“Hopefully we’ll get some good tomatoes this year,” he said.
Directions to the South Bronx Farmers Market
Take the 6 Train to 3rd Avenue/138th Street, the first stop on the 6 train heading into the Bronx from Manhattan. Exit the train at Alexander Avenue (the east entrance) and the market is across the street.
The South Bronx Farmers Market will run on Saturdays until November 22, 2014. Vendors accept WIC, FMNP checks and EBT. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit www.southbronxfarmersmarket.com.