Access to fresh food increases in boro

Morma Bermeo of Jackson Heights buys some carrots at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket.
By Joe Anuta

Low-income residents of Queens want fresh, healthy food, based on statistics released by a citywide organization.

Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program spent 78 percent more in food stamps at the borough’s farmers’ markets in 2010 compared to 2009, according to the director of Greenmarkets, the organization that runs the fresh-food markets and released the study. And the increase is largely due to a rise in availability.

“The locations were key. What we know where you provide access, people will take advantage of it,” said Michael Hurwitz. “It doesn’t matter what income level the markets are in. Parents want to feed their families nutritious and good-tasting food.”

One new market opened in Elmhurst in 2010 and food stamps were accepted at the markets in Atlas Park, Sunnyside and Long Island City for the first time in 2010.

In 2009, food stamp users spent $37,275, and in 2010 that number jumped to $66,191 according to the statistics.

Jackson Heights, which is open year round as opposed to seasonally, led the borough with $31,977 in sales, followed by Corona with $17,927 and Elmhurst with $10,123.

The numbers are significant because these markets are in areas of Queens that are often considered “food deserts,” or areas where it is hard to find fresh, nutritious food.

“Since 2001, we have not always had food stamp access in those locations,” Hurwitz said. “You just need to provide the access to it.”

In fact, the Greenmarkets seem to be more popular in low-income areas, he added.

In order to be able to spend food stamps at Greenmarkets, a card reader needed to be installed and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) used discretionary funding from the Council to pay for the new readers.

“This year’s dramatic increase in food stamp usage at our Greenmarkets demonstrates that New Yorkers want to eat healthy — they simply need to be given the option,” she said in a statement.

Hurwitz said that the fresh produce, meat, eggs and milk at the Greenmarkets can help promote a healthy lifestyle in food deserts, where access to nutritious food is scarce.

And they help support local farmers from New York state and the surrounding area as well.

“This food hasn’t traveled thousands of miles,” Hurwitz said. “Everything that can be grown, baked, caught, forged or processed in the Northeast is at the markets.”

And Hurwitz said the wares on sale are a bargain, too.

“Our prices are competitive, if not better than the stores,” he said.

There are seasonal Greenmarkets in Astoria, Atlas Park, Corona, Elmhurst, Long Island City and Sunnyside. The only year-round market in Queens is in Jackson Heights.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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