Fresh produce carts head to southeast Queens

By Alex Christodoulides

The streets of southeast Queens should see some green — and perhaps some red, orange and yellow — by the end of this year as the first vendors arrive in the area to sell fruit and vegetables to areas where supermarkets are scarce.

But other options for fresh produce do exist.

The city's “green carts” program is designed to bring fruit and vegetables to residents who get few to no servings of these foods in a typical day. But the groups that organize Greenmarkets and community-supported agriculture, where city dwellers can buy shares in a family farm's harvest, offer alternatives if residents request them.

A 2004 city Department of Health study showed that in parts of southeast Queens and the Rockaways, between 14 percent and 26 percent of residents lack access to fresh produce, so these are the neighborhoods the green carts program is to target.

The DOH said more than 2,600 vendors applied for a green cart permit by the June 18 deadline. The city plans to issue 500 permits by year's end and another 500 in 2009 to neighborhoods throughout the city where there are few supermarkets or other places to buy fresh produce.

Queens is to get 150 carts — phased in this year and next — to be distributed in the 103rd, 105th and 113th precincts in southeast Queens and the 100th and 101st precincts in the Rockaways.

These areas have limited access to supermarkets and are not represented at all in the Greenmarkets network of farmers markets or the community-supported agriculture program that brings regional, seasonal produce from family farms to city residents.

Greenmarkets is run by the Council on the Environment of New York City, a nonprofit that organizes and manages open-air farmers markets throughout the five boroughs, such as the well-known one in Union Square.

Five Greenmarkets in Queens — Astoria, Sunnyside, Atlas Park, Long Island City and one in Jackson Heights that accepts food stamps — operate one day a week, mainly in the summer and fall.

The Council on the Environment of New York City did not return a call for comment about why there are no markets in southeast Queens, but the group behind New York City's CSAs said they would be happy to set up a program there if residents are interested.

The nonprofit Just Food links family farms and New Yorkers. Its CSA program sells shares in harvests from farms, mainly on Long Island and upstate, to city residents and institutions. Share prices for a season vary by farm, but members can often reach an agreement about payment.

Just Food organizes eight CSAs in Astoria, Douglaston, Flushing, Forest Hills, Hell Gate, Jackson Heights, Long Island City and Sunnyside. All are maxed out and cannot accommodate any new share members, the group said.

Paula Lukats, the CSA program manager for New York City at Just Food, said the group “would love to bring one to that area. For some of our Long Island farms it'd be easy to get there.”

Just Food offers workshops to show communities how to get a CSA started nearby.

“We don't decide where to put them,” Lukats said. “What it'd take to get one started is a couple of people to come to us and say, 'We want this in our neighborhood.' There's a template for people to get one started — we start talking to new groups in the fall and start matching groups up with farms in January. And we help sort out flexible payment options, food stamps and sliding scale payments — people might join in March and pay a third in March, April and May.”

More information on the CSA program can be found at www.justfood.org/csa/ and information about Greenmarkets is available at www.cenyc.org/greenmarket.