Food Pantry Clients Take Tours of the Poe Park Greenmarket
It was one of the first truly chilly days of the season. Winds pressed through the Poe Park Greenmarket in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx, a local farmers market that envelops the southern edge of the park. Often a dip in the temperature precipitates a corresponding dip in the number of customers who come out. However, on Halloween morning this year, the market was bustling. Taina Rodriguez of Part of the Solution (POTS), a multiservice agency in the Bronx that attends to the essential needs and hunger of all who enter, had brought 58 community members to shop.
Taina, who was first introduced to POTS “as one of the families on the line” when she was 11 years old, is now a program coordinator for the organization and runs the POTS soup kitchen. “I knew, even when I was young,” she says, “that this is what I wanted to do with my life.” Every Tuesday for the past few months, Taina has led POTS clients on tours of the Poe Park Greenmarket. The tours are a new program in GrowNYC’s Fresh Pantry Project, which coordinates farmer donations of nearly one million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year to local food pantries, homeless facilities, soup kitchens, and community centers throughout all five boroughs. Thanks to a grant from Wholesome Wave, this year GrowNYC has partnered with multiple New York City food pantries to provide pantry clients with tours of the farmers market, as well as $12 vouchers to redeem on fresh produce at market.
The group of people Taina brought to the Greenmarket on Halloween was her biggest one yet. “My first ever tour was 19 people. By the third week, the numbers were in the 30’s, and it’s grown steadily since,” she says. Taina has watched word of the program spread: “It’s really great because people come to POTS when they hear about the Fresh Pantry Program, and then they get introduced to all of the other pantry services.” In addition to the soup kitchen, POTS offers housing, legal, and other social services to working poor and homeless Bronxites.
Taina begins her tours at the POTS headquarters at 2759 Webster Avenue, where she provides a short lesson that includes information about the farmers market, nutrition and healthy eating, as well as tips on which farmers to buy from when they get to the Poe Park Greenmarket to make the $12 vouchers stretch the farthest. “I also tell them to always walk around the market to see what’s there before spending the vouchers—and to talk to the farmers.”
According to Taina, “a lot of people that come to the soup kitchen think it costs more money to eat healthy, but it doesn’t. To improve nutrition, first you must change people’s habits. But you need tools to do that, and most of the people on this tour don’t have the income to get started. The Fresh Pantry Project brings them here to the farmers market and shows them how. I show them that they can use their EBT cards and that they get the extra money in Health Bucks.” For every $5 a customer spends using SNAP, they receive one $2 Health Buck coupon to spend at the farmers market. This increase of 40% in buying power stretches a SNAP budget and encourages shoppers to spend more of their monthly Food Stamp allotment on fresh produce from the market.
While she was talking about her experience with the program, a steady stream of pantry clients came by to show off what they bought, ask Taina’s advice, or tell her about their experience at the market, almost all of them speaking Spanish. “I try to only let people come once, so that as many people as possible can take the tour before we’re out of vouchers. But sometimes I bend the rules.” She pointed to a client holding a big bag of produce – “I’ve let her come three weeks in a row. She’s vegan, and it’s harder for her to find the foods she needs.” Just then, another pantry client approaches Taina to flaunt her Greenmarket haul of potatoes, onion, celery, and pumpkin. “I told her to get the pumpkin to go with her beans,” Taina explained. “She’s a diabetic, and pumpkin is a good substitute for potato.”
The wintry weather is coming, and the Poe Park Greenmarket will end for the season soon after Thanksgiving. It’s unlikely, however, that the stock of vouchers will hold out until then, given the popularity of these market tours among pantry clients. “Hopefully,” Taina says, “we’ll be able to do it again next year.”
Poe Park Greenmarket is open every Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., through the end of November
2640 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY
Photos courtesy of GrowNYC