The Forest Hills Greenmarket opened on Sunday, July 8, which was a victorious day as evidenced by the high rate of local patrons looking to purchase fresh and nutritious produce from nearby farms.
A farmers market has been a shared vision by residents, businesses, and Greenmarket, a program of GrowNYC, but securing a location posed much debate until the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, Community Board 6, and Greenmarket reached a consensus in May.
On Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through November 18th, the Forest Hills Greenmarket will operate along the south side of Queens Boulevard and 70th Avenue near the Forest Hills Post Office.
The L-shaped location is across from MacDonald Park and on a street that connects to Austin Street, contributing to its accessibility and visibility.
“As soon as the chamber learned of the Post Office location, we were on board with the farmers market’s opening,” said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.
Founded in 1976, Greenmarket sells almost any product that can be grown, cut, harvested, baked, or processed in a local region. During an April 2012 interview for this Forest Hills Times column, Jackson Heights resident Michael Hurwitz and director of Greenmarket explained the benefits of a farmers market on the local community.
“Benefits would include a mass of patrons to local businesses, amenities to boost our quality of life, and the transformation of unused space into active community space offering cooking demonstrations, music, children’s activities, and educational programming,” he said.
Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation agreed.
“The addition of a farmers market is a benefit on many levels,” he said. “It gives consumers more choices, helps our regional economy, and it brings even more people to the shopping street, where they may frequent other shops.”
“Forest Hills is changing for the better,” said Steve Melnick of the Queens Boulevard Restoration Group. “A simple amenity such as a farmers market gets people outdoors, where they meet neighbors and share ideas.”
In response to today’s economy, he stated, “Many families are cooking meals at home, so fresh and reasonably priced goods may also encourage others to experiment with cooking wholesome meals. The added foot traffic can only be a good thing, since shoppers may make a day of shopping locally or having lunch at one of our many restaurants.”
Melnick recommended that GrowNYC should work with local schools to develop a program that encourages healthy eating habits and have children visit the market with their family.
New York City and the nation are embracing healthier dietary trends, due to the rise in farmers markets. Studies indicate that neighborhood residents who have access to farmers markets have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables daily, and surrounding commercial districts experience financial gains.
As of mid-2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 7,175 farmers markets nationally. Currently, Greenmarket operates 55 citywide.
A Forest Hills resident who held meetings and participated in a 500-signature petition drive was Professor James Voketaitis.
“There was a lot more community support when we made a second effort,” he said, referring to initial opposition. “I’ve had a gut feeling that Forest Hills was tailor-made for a farmers market. This is a dream come true, and I feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Forest Hills resident Erin Molyneux is the creator of a Facebook group called Sustainable Forest Hills. He explained how society is reaching a point where the resources we rely on are more scarce and expensive, and we cannot turn to government for help.
He believes Forest Hills should become more resilient and sustainable, and a step forward is the farmers market.
“This is a throwback to an earlier, simpler time, where you visit a nearby market and communicate with farmers,” Molyneux said. “People are becoming thoughtful about what they are consuming, how they are consuming it, and where it’s from.”
“We’re excited that business is really good,” said market manager Zoe Mendelson, as she gazed upon the 11 vendors.
Products included vegetables, fruits, honey, sheep, turkey, goat cheese, fish, bread, and wine. She explained how patrons enjoyed last week’s cooking demonstration, which featured sautéed radishes with butter and cilantro.
Patron Steve Goodman of Forest Hills compared the market to the one in Union Square.
“This is a bustling market with a wide variety, and is the first Greenmarket outside Manhattan which has a large vitality to it,” he said.
“If I need to make a salad, I’m coming to my outdoor supermarket,” said Lisa Marie Ortiz of Kew Gardens, “a source which makes sense, since Forest Hills is health conscious. Today is my first day, and not my last.”
Ortiz said two vendors agreed to bring the food she needs next week.
“The conversation with vendors was as good as the food,” she said, after purchasing leafy vegetables and tomatoes.
Sellers are diverse. Borghese Vineyard offers 21 blended wines. Andrew Cote of Andrew’s Honey offered more than 30 local organic honey varieties, including Rego Park and Prospect Heights honey, as well as wildflower and blueberry.
“My family has been in this business for 130 years, and I’ve been in it since I was eleven,” said Cote. “Queens is an underrepresented borough, and I’m looking forward to learning more through conversations with new customers.”
“The residents are very supportive and a welcome wagon,” said Judy Genova of B&Y Farms in Spencer, NY. “I feel like I just moved into the neighborhood, and this makes me want to be a better farmer.”
Her kiosk offers over 25 products on average, including organic-fed lamb, chicken, tunis lamb meat, and pickles.
“Business is unbelievable,” said Bread Alone Bakery employee Sonam Amchay. “Our first day, we were sold out by 10:30 a.m. Today, we doubled our supplies and were sold out in the early afternoon.”
His kiosk offers greater than 10 varieties of organic bread, including whole wheat sourdough and mushroom ciabatta, as well as 30 varieties of pastries. Pies are prepared with seasonal fruits such as blueberry, rhubarb, and apple.
“From last Sunday to this past Sunday, there were more vendors at the market, which shows how people are responding to it,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. “My constituents have been asking for it for years, and at last it is here.” “This is a work-in-progress, and will develop as we get to know the neighborhood,” said Hurwitz, before offering encouragement to other neighborhoods looking to start a farmers market. “Whether it takes six months or three years, when we know that a community is committed to hosting a market, we will work with all parties involved to make that a reality.”