Thursdays at the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market (NBCFM) are relaxed in contrast to the hustle and bustle on the more crowded Saturday market days. There's more leisure time for farmer and customer conversation...and a chance to get closer to your food!
Parents can shop the market uninterrupted while their children are treated to crayons and coloring book images of fruits and vegetables, and through this means, they get valuable lessons on health and nutrition while they play. "Hey, you're our nutrition teacher," they shout in recognition when they see Patricia Munoz, a community coordinator for the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (NJ SNAP-Ed) program, who conducts nutrition programs at their local school. Munoz shares recipes and nutrition information with customers, many of whom are among the most food insecure in the neighborhood. A part of her responsibilities includes informing customers of the special Women Infants and Children (WIC) and Senior voucher arrangement at the NBCFM, where Johnson and Johnson matches the value of their vouchers allowing them to double its value.
Dave Byrne of Pop's Farm Market in Monroe is at times the only vendor on Thursdays, but there's no lack of quantity or variety. Byrne's customers have the whole range of Jersey produce to pick from. What he doesn't grow on his farm, like peaches and nectarines, he'll supplement from other Jersey farms. Byrne notes that most of his urban customers who don't own cars have little problem toting their fresh abundance home. "They come to market with empty toddler strollers and wheel them home full," he says.
The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market, which was launched in July 2009, is operated by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, thanks to a generous grant from Johnson and Johnson and with the support of the city of New Brunswick. The market seeks to develop a sustainable community by bringing healthy food from local farms to families and households across the city and neighboring communities. It offers a convenient venue for Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) education and outreach on a variety of topics, especially those related to food, nutrition, and health.
To build on its commitment to expanding RCE outreach in food, nutrition, and health programming, the market launched a Youth and Family Gardeners Program. This new program would allow the NBCFM to expand by involving various community organizations like the 4-H Eco-team, The Girl Scouts of New Brunswick, New Jersey after 3, which is dedicated to expanding opportunities for afterschool kids, and other organizations.
"We envision a gardeners program that can be a year-round educational tool and would teach the community about the nutritional benefits of vegetables, various techniques on how to grow vegetables, and remove any inhibitions to growing vegetables on their own," says Jaymie Santiago, program coordinator with RCE and manager of the market.
"The food harvested from the community garden goes to the families of the children while the food harvested from our Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH) "giving garden" will go to soup kitchens. Moreover, the herbs are being harvested by the Eco-team weekly and sold at the Farmers Market in an attempt to teach entrepreneurism. While this hybrid community garden can serve as a great educational tool, it can also allow for a connection with the community and family members' cultural heritage," adds Santiago.
According to Santiago, the Youth and Family Gardeners Program got underway in June this year, a bit later than anticipated, due to the fact that the various gardens had to be built from scratch. The soil had to be tested; lumber had to be treated and then cut; soil, compost, and mulch had to be mixed and distributed. The gardens became a reality, thanks to site planning and other assistance from Laura Lawson, professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, her students, and various community volunteers. The 4-H Eco-team planted the herb garden and the Girl Scouts Troop assisted in planting the beneficial border that runs alongside the gardens to attract pollinators and beneficial insects.
Santiago indicates that more exciting plans are underway with the design of a small sensory garden that would serve as another teaching tool for youth groups and their families. Blueberry bushes were donated by Peter Oudemans, associate professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology and researcher at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension, an NJAES extension farm located in Chatsworth, NJ.
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