The apples, pears and peaches come from a farm in Pennsylvania; the collards and calallo from a local green thumb whose garden was once a rotting urban brownfield. They make their way into pots and onto plates across Central Brooklyn, thanks to the East New York Farmer’s Market, the only source of fresh produce for blocks along New Lots Avenue.
But with vacant space at a premium in New York, many of the four-year-old market’s backers are worried that its future may be in jeopardy. For the past few months, state Assemblymember Diane Gordon has been expressing her desire to put more substantive development in the market’s place, potentially including a community center sponsored by her True Worship church.
“I would like to see a multicultural center there,” Gordon says, adding that many other ideas for economic development on the land were being tossed around. “We have to sit down and figure how this space can be best used to serve the community.”
Meanwhile, the managers of the market, which will operate every Saturday this summer starting June 7, hope to expand their business by replacing the outdoor stalls with a year-round building that would allow them to open shop every day and offer space to a variety of new vendors.
“We want to make the market grow into a youth entrepreneurial center,” says Ojeda Hall-Phillips, executive vice president of the Local Development Corporation of East New York, which manages the market.
Operating year-round would provide local residents with a needed service, adds local market manager Salima Jones, noting that her community has been starved of nutrition-rich produce for years. “We have a real food security issue here,” she says.
So far the LDC has secured $500,000 from the federal Department of Health and Human Services for the expansion, and the group is now trying to raise another $2 million.
For now, though, anything is possible for the property, which is owned by the city. “It’s all open game,” says James Tillman, chair of the land use committee for Community Board 5. He notes that neither group has submitted a formal proposal.
That said, adds Tillman, a longtime friend of Gordon’s, “The farmer’s market isn’t using the land to its full potential. Nobody’s anti-market, but it’s wasted space.”
For now, City Councilmember Charles Barron has yet to weigh in. A frequent visitor to the market, Barron remembers recently picking up onions, carrots and a framed picture of The Last Supper in which Jesus is African-American. He forsees all parties using the lot for mixed-use development. “It’s not one or the other,” he says. “There’s room for combined visions here.”