Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boro Hall Greenmarket: Highly Sustainable

Reaches Quarter-Century Milestone

Sure, greenmarkets and local eating are all the rage now, but they’ve been around longer than you might think. The Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), which was started in 1970, has been opening and maintaining greenmarkets for more than 30 years.

“The first market opened under the 59th Street Bridge in 1976,” said CENYC assistant director Julie Walsh. Today, CENYC operates 49 greenmarkets in the city, with 11 in Brooklyn. The newest is in Bay Ridge, which opened in October of 2008.

This month the Borough Hall Greenmarket, one of the city’s oldest, will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Monthlong festivities will culminate in a celebration on June 27, which will include a seafood cook-off, pizza baking with Bread Alone Bakery, and a solar panel demonstration from environmental education group Solar One. Sustainable food advocates Just Food will have a table at the event, as will CENYC’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education (OROE).

On Cadman Plaza at the intersection of Court and Montague streets, the Borough Hall Greenmarket is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays year-round and Thursdays from April 2 through Dec. 24.

Fred Wilklow, head farmer of Wilklow Orchards, has been selling at the Borough Hall Greenmarket since it started. Back then, he said, customers came from all over because it was the only one in the area. Even now, some of those same people shop at the greenmarket.

“I’m looking forward to [the party], I’ll see a lot of people who have been customers since the first day,” Wilklow said. “I’ve seen families grow up, my family has grown up. It’s become my second hometown.”

Wilklow Orchards, along with Phillips Farms, provides fresh picked fruits and vegetables, plants and flowers, and grass-fed meat to the market. Also available are fresh fish, eggs, buffalo yogurt, cheese and meat. New this year are Long Island wine producers Paumanok Vineyards, along with organic vegetables, chicken and eggs from Fishkill Farms.

Michael Hurwitz, CENYC Greenmarket program director, said the Borough Hall Greenmarket “demonstrates the strength of the market, the farmers that are there and the community around the market.” He added, “You can go there on a Saturday and buy anything you want that’s edible. There’s a diverse array of products.”

CENYC Executive Director Marcel Van Ooyen says the greenmarket “is an example of all that we’ve been able to accomplish,” and that it’s one of the organization’s most popular greenmarkets.

Helping the City Live Better

CENYC’s mission is to “give people the tools and the education and the resources to make New York City a more sustainable environment,” Walsh said. “It’s by the people, of the people, and for the people.”

In addition to greenmarkets, CENYC brings fresh food and produce to underpriveleged areas with its Youthmarket program.

“Communities that are food deserts, that really need access to fresh healthy food, they can’t support a traditional farmer’s market model, so what we do is we buy wholesale from the farmers in our Greenmarket program and set up a farm stand that’s staffed, operated and managed by community youth,” Walsh explained.

In some cases, the presence of a youthmarket has helped make neighborhoods safer. Walsh told about one particular youthmarket in a south Bronx neighborhood near a police surveillance tower. “Within two weeks of the market operating, [the police] were able to leave,” she said.
With CENYC’s Open Spaces Greening program, 57 community gardens have opened in New York City since 1978, 26 of them in Brooklyn.

“We want people to engage in behaviors that will make a more sustainable city — behaviors that they will carry with them,” Walsh noted. “People can see the link. When you go to a community garden you see the importance of preserving nature.”

CENYC also has a presence in 13 city schools with its environmental education program, one of those being Madison High School in Midwood. Through Training Student Organizers (TSO), students have built and demonstrated solar ovens, planted trees, removed invasive species and learned about New York City’s watershed.

In 2006, the Office of Recycling Outreach Education (OROE) was created by CENYC. This part of the organization is specific to the five boroughs, each having its own recycling outreach coordinator. These coordinators target specific neighborhoods that have low recycling diversion rates.

“[OROE] teaches people how to properly recycle,” said CENYC development and communications specialist Amanda Gentile. She said that in the past, OROE has set up a table at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket and conducted a “recycling challenge.” Its purpose is “to make recycling as easy as possible,” she added. OROE will hold the recycling challenge at the Borough Hall Greenmarket’s anniversary celebration.

But no matter what CENYC does, it’s always with a positive outlook. “There’s not so much talking about negativity,” Gentile said. “We’re simply doing things that are directly making improvements, and trying to get people involved in doing that with us.”

Photo above, by Don Evans, is Eva Skillicorn from Wilklow Orchards

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