NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market will expand this spring in size and scope.

The expansion takes place thanks to a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018 Farmers Market Promotion Program.

The funds will be used over three years to re-launch and “re-familiarize the community with the market,” said Dr. William Hallman, former community farmers market manager and chair of the Human Ecology Department at Rutgers University. The farmers market will hire Market Ambassadors to resurvey the community to account for demographic changes since the market first opened 11 years ago.

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The community farmer’s market was founded in 2008 by a leadership team from Johnson & Johnson, led by Colleen Goggins, in collaboration with the Rutgers Gardens Market and a coterie of Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) professors. 

Goggins and others noticed the lack of fresh produce available in New Brunswick, especially in low-income neighborhoods. The result was a partnership between Johnson & Johnson, the City of New Brunswick, and Rutgers University. The mission was to create a garden and market in downtown New Brunswick to serve those experiencing food insecurity. 

Access was further expanded due to the contributions from J&J, which funds the Market Bucks Program, a dollar-for-dollar match program for those with SNAP, WIC, and other food assistance benefits. The Rutgers Agricultural Cooperative Extension provides similar support, with coupons and free bus trips for senior citizens.

“The market was designed to serve people who are food insecure,” Hallman said. “It’s what sets apart the NBCFM from almost every other farmer markest in the area.”

The market works with Elijah’s Promise, Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH), Meals on Wheels, the Ryan White Program, and Ciclovia to provide access to fresh, cheap produce. Other programs offered include free health screenings, nutritional lessons, movie nights, and live music.

Dr. Nurgül Fitzgerald, an associate nutritional sciences professor and extension specialist at Rutgers, oversees many of the health programs and says nutrition education is one aspect of disease prevention.

“Information, skill building, affordability, and convenience” are crucial preventative measures," Fitzgerald said. She and her students expanded on these principles to create the Community Connections Initiative, which “connects the dots” between the farmers market corner stores, and other wellness initiatives in the city.

Fitzgerald pays special attention to the immigrant population in New Brunswick. Her research has observed immigrants abandon their native diets and adopt unhealthy American habits, resulting in an increase in cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Because of this, Hallman emphasized the market’s role in improving access to culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables. With a large population of immigrants from Central America, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, market directors recognized the need to grow and sell produce familiar to these particular communities.

For the large Oaxacan community, this resulted in the production of jalapenos, tomatillos, and marigolds for El Dia de Los Muertos. Aesthetic expectations also differ, and as Hallman recalls, many Mexican immigrants prefer cilantro with their roots still intact and peppers with lines on them.

“There has been a really interesting cultural exchange, in which we’ve been teaching people in the community what to do with the vegetables they’ve never seen before and they teach us what is appropriate for their cuisines,” Hallman said.

The farmers market offers food tastings and recipe exchanges for those looking to learn. It also runs two community gardens that are open to the public.

“Growing your own food allows you to have a voice in the culture and economy,” Mark Oshinksie, director of the market’s community gardens, said. It allows for direct participation in nutrition, the economy, the environment, and justice.

El Jardin de Esperanza (Garden of Hope), located on Jones Avenue, offers $15 plots. The garden has dozens of raised beds, two hoop houses, greenhouse, apiary, a flock of chickens, and a market pavilion. It also features local artwork and an array of flowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer, from towering sunflowers to dahlias and purple clover. 

The Resurrection Garden on George Street is a smaller, less secluded space for gardeners in the community.

New Brunswick resident Shawntell Manning initially obtained a plot as an opportunity to grow organic food at a low cost.

“My kids love kale chips,” explained Manning, “so I decided to show them where kale came from.” Her four-year-old twins aid Manning with watering, weeding, and harvesting, but mostly keep their mother company while she tends to her plots. 

The gardens have allowed Manning to teach her children about food and the natural environment. 

Eloise Gayer, a Rutgers University student and gardener at El Jardin de Esperanza, exchanged produce with several people while she was there. “I ate the broccoli florets but not the leaves, she ate the leaves but not the florets, so we were a perfect match and shared each other’s plants. I also gave away lots of my excess tomatoes and hung out with a couple of kids in the garden and taught them a bit about gardening,” she said.

If you are interested in obtaining a plot this season, send an email to nbcfarmersmarket@rutgers.edu . If you would like to learn more, visit the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market website at http://nbcfarmersmarket.com/ .