A cornerstone was laid in Forest Hills on July 8 with the opening of the Forest Hills Greenmarket. The heat was a scorcher, but residents of Forest Hills and nearby communities generated a cool buzz as they welcomed the three-and-a-half-year plan for a Greenmarket, a venture by GrowNYC.
Patrons gathering at kiosks with hopes to consume fresh and nutritious produce from local and regional farms became a Sunday tradition from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside the Forest Hills Post Office. The L-shaped location along Queens Boulevard and 70th Avenue across from MacDonald Park and a block from Austin Street offers great accessibility to fresh produce in the heart of Forest Hills.
It’s okay to hold great expectations. The Forest Hills Greenmarket’s first season was slated to end on November 18, but due to financial success marked by product and vendor expansion, as well as patron feedback, it will remain open through December 23.
“We spoke with our farmers to see which would be available in December, and once we knew the majority would, Community Board 6 granted an extension,” said Markella Los, regional coordinator of Queens Greenmarkets
“We look forward to returning with more programming, as well as the possibility of expanding the market to further the diversity of regional products currently available,” said Los. “Future goals may include having the market go year-round.”
According to Los, patron ideas are taken into account when planning promotions. That includes cooking demonstrations, mapping local outreach, and supplying the market information tent with cooking tips and recipe handouts.
Backtracking, the Forest Hills Greenmarket almost did not become a reality if not for the partnership of local residents and businesses, which adhered to a vision shared with Greenmarket. An influential Forest Hills visionary, Professor James Voketaitis, arranged meetings and participated in a 500-signature petition drive.
In addition to Community Board 6, locals were also able to garner the support of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, which was initially skeptical that an unsuitable location would detract business from some Chamber members around Austin Street. Much debate met a consensus in May 2012.
“The Chamber is pleased that Forest Hills has a popular farmers market which brings in shoppers from outside areas,” said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. “The location works well for Forest Hills merchants. I hope the market continues to thrive in 2013.”
As Thanksgiving approached, Greenmarket’s goal was to provide relief to numerous New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy, so they launched the Donate-A-Bag program.
“Customers purchase an extra bag of produce, and it helps feed hungry New Yorkers affected by the hurricane and relief workers,” explained Los. “Harvest season items were donated in record numbers.”
Greater than 10,000 pounds were donated to community kitchens, shelters, food pantries, and religious sites.
“Forest Hills Greenmarket patrons and farmers gave generously,” said Los.
Back in July, patrons were welcomed by the diversity of wholesome and delectable products provided by friendly faces. Original farm vendors were R&G Produce, B&Y Farms, Bread Alone, Andrew’s Local Honey, Gajeski Produce, Amantai Farm, Pura Vida, Terhune Orchards, DiPaola Turkey Farm, and Castello Di Borghese or King Ferry Winery on alternate weekends.
Recently, community needs were echoed by the implementation of Goodale Farms, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, Las Delicias Patisserie, and Red Jacket Orchards. Nordic Breads and Lavender by the Bay are hosted on a drop-in basis.
“They’re crazy over our breads and pastries,” said Tenzin Phende of Bread Alone Bakery, which offers more than 10 varieties of organic bread, as well as 30 varieties of pastries.
R&G Produce Growers of Goshen, NY, sells nearly 50 vegetables and herbs on average. Vendor Allen Castellano explained he can only sell what they can grow seasonally.
“Some of our late summer vegetables are spinach, and kubocha, butternut, and spaghetti squash,” sauid Castellano. “All root vegetables remain, but if the good Lord will help us, we will have our second to none lettuce available longer.”
Judy Genova of B&Y Farms in Spencer, NY, discussed her vision for the 2013 season.
“I’d like to encourage Greenmarket to reach out to neighboring communities such as Kew Gardens, encourage a central generator at the market, and introduce our grass-fed beef,” she said. “I also want to expand my color choices of natural-dyed yarn to indigo, greens, and lavenders, since this is a fiber art-friendly community.”
The farmers market also produces touching stories. Genova sold three lamb shearling fleeces to an Asian woman, who crafted a handmade vest for her 91-year-old father in China to keep him warm in his nursing home. She may never see him again, since she will not be issued another visa.
Goodale Farms of Aquebogue, NY, was introduced to Forest Hills in September 2012. Kayla Meier, who lives and works on the farm, which was established in the mid-1800s, milks goats and produces cheese.
“I like being able to share what I’ve learned with Forest Hills,” she said.
A rainy afternoon of December 9 did not put a damper on shoppers. Hanka Ornaf of Forest Hills has shopped at the market since it opened.
“I admire the fresh variety of products,” she said.
Newcomer Damelvy Rodriguez of College Point ate lunch at nearby Agora Taverna and noticed the tents.
“For the size of the market, it offers a good selection at fair prices,” she said. “I purchased onions at $1 a pound for my French onion soup.”
To track a neighborhood success story and pitch ideas for the 2013 season, visit their website.