Bringing Fresh Produce to Pomonok

Every Thursday from 9 to 4, Veronica Class and her 18 year-old daughter Sacia volunteer at the new Pomonok Community Fresh Connect Farmers’ Market on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, Queens. Veronica helps to sell fruits and vegetables and chats with customers about how to use them. Veronica appreciates the healthy addition the market has made to the neighborhood, “This market is very good, because everything is fresh and natural and the people are very nice.”

Her daughter Sacia enjoys working at the market because of the great company. “It’s really nice that seniors are a lot of the people involved in the farmer’s market,” say Sacia. “They not only teach me about fruits and vegetables but also give me advice about other things. It’s really brought people in the neighborhood together.”

Pomonok is one of 19 farmers’ markets in low-income communities throughout New York City that Just Food has supported through the City Farms Market program, which provides training, technical assistance, and services.

Both Veronica and her daughter were part of the Healthy Food Access Planning Team that established the market. The Queens Community Houses initially launched an effort to increase access to healthy food in these neighborhoods in the fall of 2010 with a community needs survey in Pomonok. Surrounded by affluent neighborhoods, Pomonok represents a pocket of need in the generally middle-class borough. In US Congressional District 5, which covers a broad swathe of Queens, an average of 11.9 % of residents live below the poverty level. However, in Pomonok, nearly 1/3 of the population relies on income support to make ends meet.

Eighty-three percent of Pomonok residents surveyed by Queens Community House said they wanted to include more fruits and vegetables in their diet, but said that produce was hard to find in their neighborhood; what little was available was often too expensive. Armed with this information, volunteers of the Healthy Food Access Planning Team decided to create a community-run farmers market to address the needs of the neighborhood. 

Once the planning team identified a farmers market as their solution of choice, they went through Just Food’s City Farms Market Training Program to learn the ins and outs of starting and managing a successful community-run market. The team, which was made up of Queens Community House staff and a group of 10 seniors and neighborhood volunteers, learned how to start, manage and grow a community-run farmers market. Nadia Johnson, City Farms Market Network Coordinator for Just Food, taught the group how to apply to accept government benefits at the market. Like all City Farms Markets, Pomonok Fresh Connect accepts SNAP/EBT, FMNP and WIC Fruit & Veggie benefits. The training also offered strategies for outreach and the market team developed and implemented a plan to reach low- and fixed-income residents.

As the project developed, the Healthy Food Access Team engaged all sectors of their community in planning and conducting outreach for the market. They reached out to faith-based organizations, the local library and schools, business owners and elected officials to gather support for the market.

“There was such enthusiasm in the room, an excited buzz to be involved,” says Amy Liao, an organizer at Queens Commuity House’s Pomonok Center, says of the early meeting, “and then the pieces just started falling together.”

A local elementary school is partnering with market volunteers to grow and sell veggies from their community garden (right). High School students from John Bowne are growing produce and raising eggs for the market on their four-acre farm. Community Chefs use the weekly selection of veggies in cooking demonstrations to remind shoppers that eating healthy and in season is also delicious.

Community involvement, which was vital in the planning and launch of the market, will be just as vital in the seasons to come. In Veronica’s words, “you have to help each other otherwise you’ll never change anything around here.”

The Pomonok Community Fresh Connect Farmers’ Market is open every Thursday from 10 AM to 4 PM until November 7th. You can find the market at 67-09 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing. The market was launched with critical support from the New York Community Trust through the Community Experience Partnership and received financial support through Governor  Andrew Cuomo's Fresh Connect Initiative.