Anyone who has visited a farmers market knows that they can be a source of fresh, locally grown produce and homemade foods. But markets can also be anchors within the community, a place for neighbors to meet and get the kind of nourishment that feeds one's spirit in addition to feeding one's body.
In early July, the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market, a collaborative effort among Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson, and the City of New Brunswick, opened with this ideal in mind: a market that provides more than just local produce--a market that both meets the needs of the community and becomes a part of the very fabric of that community.
The New Brunswick market takes place Tuesdays and Fridays at the intersection of Jones Avenue and Sandford Street and serves a population that seldom has access to locally produced fruits and vegetables. Many in the area shop on foot or by bus and have limited access to large grocery stores. The New Brunswick market provides a healthy alternative by meeting both the nutritional and cultural needs of the local community.
Providing affordable, culturally appropriate nutritious fruits and vegetables and nutrition education is one of the main goals of the market, noted Colleen Goggins, worldwide chairman, Johnson & Johnson consumer group and executive committee member. Visitors to the market are able to use SNAP (food stamps), WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers for their purchases.
Ensuring customers have the tools to make good food choices was a top priority for market organizers. Consumer educators from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, will provide lessons on healthy eating habits, economical food budgeting, and food safety practices. Nutrition experts from the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and graduates of the culinary program at Elijah's Promise will offer cooking demonstrations. Information will be provided in both Spanish and English to serve the local Latino community.
More than just a place to buy food, organizers see the New Brunswick market as a place that will build and strengthen community ties. William Hallman, director of Rutgers' Food Policy Institute and one of the market's lead organizers, sees the market as "a family-friendly gathering place for the community, where local farmers, artisans, and craftspeople can sell their goods, and a place where people can taste new foods, learn new recipes, and buy the ingredients to make them at home." A case in point is the recently created New Brunswick chapter of 4-H, which has a booth at the market that offers handicrafts and information on getting involved in the local community.
The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market is just one of several Rutgers-affiliated markets. The Rutgers Gardens Farmers Market started as a student-led project in 2008 and is now a cherished Friday afternoon destination for many Central New Jersey residents. Other Rutgers-affiliated markets offer youth an opportunity to expand their business knowledge while supporting their local farmers and communities.
Atlantic and Gloucester Counties, through a collaborative effort among the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Departments of 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture and Resource Management, and Family and Community Health Sciences, have long participated in the Youth Farmstand Program. This program supports local farmers, provides at-risk youth with workforce readiness skills and greater nutritional awareness, and builds stronger community ties. Initial funding for these programs came from a Children, Youth, & Families At-Risk grant.
Thousands of customers in economically disadvantaged areas purchase Jersey Fresh produce from the youth farmstands each year. The majority of these customers are elderly and come from low-income backgrounds. Residents of youth farmstand communities have been enthusiastic supporters; in recent surveys, these residents noted their pride in supporting both local farmers and youth workforce readiness training.
Through farm markets and youth farmstands, Rutgers provides support for communities, youth, entrepreneurs, and farmers throughout the state. These markets are a bright and growing example of Rutgers in your "backyard," making a positive difference in the health and well being of all of our state's residents.
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