By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Southern Brooklyn residents looking to live healthier lives are getting help from tri-state area farmers. Farm-fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale every weekend in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, now that two popular Greenmarkets have returned for the season.
On Saturday, the Bay Ridge Greenmarket, located on Third Avenue and 95th Street, opened, with farmers setting up stalls to sell from sweet potatoes to homemade yogurt. The farmer’s market will be open every Saturday from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. from now until November, according to Councilman Vincent Gentile, who worked to bring the market to the community.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) also hosted a “grand opening” of the Bensonhurst Greenmarket on Sunday morning. That market, located in Milestone Park (18th Avenue at 81st Street) will be open every Sunday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. from now until Thanksgiving, Gentile said.
“This is our third season here!” Gentile told the crowd of shoppers who turned out to see what the farmers brought to Brooklyn.
The farmers brought plenty. There were rows and rows of lettuce, string beans, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and strawberries. One vendor was selling honey. Another had milk, a variety of cheeses and homemade yogurt. A baker was selling muffins, scones and other tasty treats.
“We are so glad to be back here,” Jessica Douglas, operations manager for GrowNYC, the non-profit organization that operates dozens of Greenmarkets in the five boroughs. The Greenmarket program “is a mission driven project,” according to Douglas, who said the goal is to encourage New Yorkers to eat healthier foods while at the same time keeping small, family farms in business.
Gentile also introduced Markella Los, the regional coordinator for GrowNYC for Brooklyn and Staten Island, and Ally Campbell, the market manager for the Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst locations.
“Good morning, Bensonhurst!” Campbell shouted to the crowd. “By shopping here, you’re helping to preserve our regional agriculture,” she said.
The vendors at the Bensonhurst Greenmarket include El Poblano Farm from Staten Island, selling vegetables and specialized Mexican herbs from one of the last remaining farms in New York City. Other vendors are: Kernan Farms from Cumberland County, New Jersey; Nature's Way Farm (selling honey and candles) from Chemung County, New York and Williams Fruit Farm Orchard Ulster County, New York.
In Bay Ridge, shoppers can find the following vendors: American Seafood Wild (selling freshly caught fish from Suffolk County, New York; Bread Alone (breads and pastries) from Ulster County, New York; Goodale Farms (vegetables and dairy) from Suffolk County, New York; Jersey Farm Produce (fruit and vegetables from Hunterdon County, New Jersey); Toigo Orchards (fruit) from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania; Wager's Cider Mill (fruit, grapes, juice and cider) from Yates County, New York.
Strawberries seemed to be particularly popular at the market. “But remember, strawberry season is very short,” Gentile said. “If you want strawberries, you better get them now.”
In keeping with the cheerful atmosphere, the opening ceremony featured a performance by the PS 186 cheerleading squad, whose acrobatics drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
The cheerleading program at PS 186 is sponsored by the Neighborhood improvement Association, a non-profit organization that operates after-school programs in Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights.
Following the performance, Campbell led the kids to a booth to sample fresh apple cider.
“I like to refer to the weekly greenmarkets as our very own town square,” Gentile said. “This is where long-time residents and people new to their neighborhoods come to shop, share recipes, catch up with their neighbors and meet new friends.”
The markets will also offer cooking demonstrations, seasonal celebrations and family-friendly activities, Gentile said.
The Greenmarket program was founded in 1976. The first market had 12 farmers selling their fruits in a parking lot on Second Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan. The program has grown to more than 50 markets around the city, including one outside Brooklyn Borough Hall. More than 250 farmers drive into the city from upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to sell their fruit and vegetables.