May 19, 2024

Obstacles Seen in Poor Areas for New Farmers’ Markets

For years, the Bloomberg administration has labored to improve the eating habits of New Yorkers, banning trans fats from restaurants, urging food purveyors to use less salt and creating special zoning to encourage fresh-food supermarkets to open in produce-poor neighborhoods.

But the city still puts roadblocks in the way of community groups seeking to open farmers’ markets in low-income neighborhoods, says a report to be released on Tuesday by the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer. Those efforts face excessive fees, confusing rules and a lack of coordination among agencies, the report says.

“Instead of all the red tape, we should roll out the red carpet, because every time one of these farmers’ markets succeeds, you end up serving a community that has no access to this produce,” said Mr. Stringer, considered a likely mayoral candidate in 2013. “I think sometimes the job of the city government is to get out of the way and let things happen organically, no pun intended.”

The city has its own Greenmarket program run by GrowNYC, a nonprofit group that works out of the mayor’s office and operates seasonal and year-round markets throughout the city, partly through a contract with the parks department. While those markets have cropped up in poorer areas in recent years, they have tended to flourish in more affluent neighborhoods in or close to Manhattan.

By contrast, most of the community-based markets are clustered in low-income neighborhoods where officials and even farmers were not convinced they could succeed. GrowNYC markets generally charge higher vendor fees and require that growers be present at the stand, a condition the community markets, operating in less tested areas, cannot always meet.

“When we asked to have a farmers’ market, we were told that farmers don’t want to come to the Bronx because it’s dangerous, or poor people can’t afford organic products,” said Karen Washington of La Familia Verde, a community garden organization active in Crotona, East Tremont and West Farms in the Bronx that started its markets with the help of Just Food, which promotes local and urban agriculture and coordinates 17 markets in the city. “But instead of listening to the naysayers, we figured: since we grow it, we know our community; let’s form our own farmers’ market.”

According to the report, the demand is clear: the city’s 60 community markets took in almost $500,000 in government nutrition coupons in 2009 and 2010.

But organizers must follow different permitting processes depending on where they seek to operate — in, say, a community garden or a park or on a street corner — and the income level of the area. Fees, which must be paid in advance of the selling season, can exceed $1,600 annually, a level that can strain the resources of a small organization. And even after the permits are obtained, vendors can have parking problems, since their permits are not always recognized by city ticket agents.

Mr. Stringer’s report recommends creating a single entity to oversee the markets, a uniform application process, a guide to operations and standard procedures for parking. It also suggests eliminating some fees.

Responding to the issues raised by the report, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office did not acknowledge a problem and had little to say about whether change could be on the way. Asked why the process was so complicated and if the city could do anything to make it easier, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, “New Yorkers who apply for a street permit to hold a farmers’ market receive a detailed outline of all the necessary steps to make the process as clear as possible.” A follow-up question about those applying for permits for other locations — like parks or community gardens — went unanswered.

The executive director of GrowNYC, Marcel Van Ooyen, acknowledged that the system was complex. “It’s just complicated to work through New York City in anything you do; you have multiple agencies” involved in the regulations, he said, adding that his group had routinely tried to help others negotiate the bureaucracy. He said he was considering creating an online tutorial for anyone thinking about starting a market, to provide all the information in one place.

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