Originally published in The DASH-NY Newsletter December 2011
by Leonardo Blair
When the only supermarket in Highland Falls, a town in New York’s Mid-Hudson region, closed last year, the community lost its only daily fresh food outlet. But thanks to an investment from the New York Healthy Food & Healthy Communities (HFHC) Fund, local residents Lisa Berrios and Albert Rodriguez brought back not only fresh food access, but jobs.
The couple opened MyTown Marketplace with financing from the HFHC, an innovative financing program created to revitalize New York neighborhoods by encouraging investment in healthy food retail. Along with providing access to healthy food for residents of Highland Falls, the new store created eight full-time and 19 part-time jobs, a boon for the town’s health and economy.
Across New York, communities are discovering that economic growth and good health can go hand-in-hand when investments are made in increasing the availability of healthy foods.
“People are hungry for it (farmers’ markets),” said Travis Tench, Co-founder and Marketing Manager ofEcostation:NY, a non-profit organization that manages three farmers’ markets in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “They want good food and they want to eat well.”
New York is second only to California as the state with the most farmers’ markets in America, according to a report this year from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The number of farmers’ markets increased from 235 in 2000 to 520 and counting in 2011, a more than 120% increase.
This uptick in demand for farmers’ markets in New York State has provided benefits beyond the individual purchases. In Oswego, the Chamber of Commerce reported ten new small businesses opening downtown to take advantage of the customer spillover from the farmers’ market. While the markets attract shoppers to the surrounding area, studies also show that farmers’ market vendors tend to reinvest in the communities where they work by purchasing their supplies locally. Markets yield a significant multiplier effect to the economy: each dollar market managers spend in small town markets results in $1.65 spent in a given region and up to $2.27 for each dollar spent by a market manager in a large city.
For Ecostation:NY, the effect has also been positive. When it was founded in 2009, the organization only had a staff of one. Less than three years later they have five full-time workers, three farmers’ markets and operate a farm at the Bushwick Campus High School. “We work with students and teachers. We grow food there, sell it at the markets, and the proceeds go back to the project at the school,” said Mr. Tench.
Ecostation:NY also shares the market with local vendors from the community like bakers and honey producers by providing them with space at the market to sell their goods. “We really work to promote these entrepreneurs,” he said. Most of the farmers participating in the Bushwick markets are from upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and “they seem to be happy. They see that the people are receiving them well,” said Mr. Tench.
In Herkimer County, innovative thinkers have added a technological twist to their healthy food strategy. With a grant from The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, Inc., Herkimer County Healthnet launched awebsite in June promoting farmers’ markets in the area. While the resource has been a helpful guide to healthy eating for the community, the farmers and the community stand to gain from the economic activity generated by purchasing farm fresh foods.“We have had some feedback from the farmers’ market managers and they like the website,” said Adam Hutchinson, Executive Director of Herkimer County Healthnet, who also hopes to add a buying club to the site where shoppers can pre-order their produce.