Farmers Market Brings Low-Cost Produce, Recipes and Nutrition Education to New York's Central Harlem
Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), a social service organization in New York City's Central Harlem, operated a monthly "farmers market" that provided low-income families with easy access to fresh produce at reduced or no cost. Staff and volunteers also provided recipes, food samples and nutrition education.
The HCZ Farmers Market was open the second Sunday of each month in the cafeteria of the organization's community center, 35 East 125th Street.
- An average of 300 families a month participated in the market during the 12 months of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funding."
- Staff and volunteers distributed more than 2,400 copies of recipes to market participants in that period.
- The market continued operating after RWJF funding ended.
RWJF supported the market from December 2005 through November 2006 with an unsolicited grant of $50,000.
Childhood obesity was of increasing concern to the leadership of Harlem Children's Zone, a social service organization focused on helping low-income families in New York City's Central Harlem."
Of 1,572 Central Harlem elementary school students screened in 20032004, 27.9 percent were obese and an additional 16.8 percent were overweight, according to the organization."
The community's lack of ready access to fresh produce and nutrition information was a contributing factor, the leadership believed. Of 43 Central Harlem stores and restaurants canvassed in 2002, only four sold fresh produce, the organization reported.
To address the problem, Harlem Children's Zone developed plans to offer fresh produce to area families and sought funding from RWJF to help establish the program.
RWJF is committed to tackling one of today's most pressing threats to the health of children and families childhood obesity. The goal is to reverse the rise in childhood obesity rates by promoting healthy eating and physical activity in schools and communities throughout the nation.
RWJF places special emphasis on reaching children at greatest risk: African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander children living in low-income communities.
Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) operated a monthly "farmers market" that provided fresh produce to low-income families in Central Harlem. Participants paid $5 a month and received up to 35 pounds of pre-weighed, pre-bagged fruits and vegetables. Families unable to afford the fee participated free of charge.
In addition to produce, staff and volunteers provided recipes, food samples and nutrition education. Starting in September 2005, the HCZ Farmers Market was open the second Sunday of each month in the cafeteria of the Harlem Children's Zone Community Center, 35 East 125th Street.
Harlem Children's Zone initiated the market to help families in the organization's various social service programs but, in response to demand, allowed any community resident in the HCZ catchment area to participate.
Andrew Benson, chef at the Promise Academy a charter school run by Harlem Children's Zone and housed in the 125th Street community center acquired seasonal fruits and vegetables for the market from Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y."
To encourage use of the produce, Benson and assistants each month prepared a dish for families to sample at the market and provided a copy of the recipe to take home. They also prepared displays and provided handouts on food preparation and such topics as how to avoid trans fats and identify the sugar content of foods.
Volunteers distributed the fruits and vegetables at a series of tables, each table devoted to one item. Families moved from table to table, choosing the varieties they wanted. Multiple distribution stations prevented long waits and the stigma associated with a "food line," project leaders said.
Thirty volunteers including staff and youth participants from other Harlem Children's Zone programs helped run the market, and representatives of Cornell University Cooperative Extension provided health information. Any leftover produce went to the Promise Academy kitchen for use in student meals."
Project personnel surveyed market participants during November 2005March 2006 and again in December 2006. A key purpose was to determine the market's impact on participants' eating and cooking habits and knowledge of nutrition."
Responses to the initial questionnaire helped determine the information and food offered at the market, but the survey methodology was not rigorous enough to permit an impact analysis, staff said. (The first survey drew responses from 115 adults and the second from 246 adults.)"
During the week preceding each market, staff at Harlem Children's Zone program sites placed phone calls to participating families to remind them to attend. The community center's health and wellness newsletter It's How You Eat and Move Your Feet included a notice of the next upcoming farmers market as well as recipes for healthy dishes."
RWJF supported the market from December 2005 through November 2006 with an unsolicited grant of $50,000 (ID# 053541). In addition, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund contributed $15,000 and Harlem Children's Zone provided funding from its unrestricted grant income.
Staff of Harlem Children's Zone reported the following in a written report to RWJF and in interviews:
- An average of 300 families a month participated in the market during the 12 months of RWJF funding. Monthly attendance initially averaged 200 families but increased to more than 350."
Staff and volunteers distributed more than 2,400 copies of recipes to market participants in that period. Of the December 2006 survey respondents who said they had been to a previous market, 49.6 percent said they had cooked at least one of the demonstrated recipes.
- Many families attended multiple times. Of the adults surveyed in December 2006, 79.9 percent said they had been to a previous market."
- Including repeat participants, market attendance totaled 3,420 families over the 12 months.
- The recipes introduced families to creative uses of fresh produce, such as baking chicken with peaches, says Debbie Kim, Harlem Children's Zone associate director for foundation and government grants.
- The market materials enticed participants to try vegetables they were unfamiliar with, such as Swiss chard, and to prepare them in new and healthier ways for example, steaming instead of sautéing in butter, according to Kim.
- The market continued operating after RWJF funding ended. See After the Grant.
- Avoid food lines and the stigma that goes with them when organizing a food-distribution program. Initial demand overwhelmed the planned capacity of the HCZ Farmers Market, resulting in a long waiting line. Realizing a food line carries a negative perception that could deter attendance, staff reorganized the market's physical setup to accommodate participants more quickly. This is also the reason HCZ Farmer's Market began charging $5 for the produce (normally all HCZ programs are free-of-charge). (Associate Director/Kim)
- Carefully plan the logistics of a food distribution program before opening the doors. Management of the market was difficult initially at least in part because staff had not planned adequately for the number of participants and therefore the volume of needed produce. (Associate Director/Kim)
- Be sensitive to cultural issues surrounding food. Instead of telling market participants which foods and preparation methods are healthy and which are unhealthy, project staff found it more effective to suggest options for families to try. (Associate Director/Kim)
AFTER THE GRANT
The HCZ Farmers Market continued after RWJF funding ended. Harlem Children's Zone used general operating funds and unrestricted grant income to support the market as part of its Obesity Initiative an agency-wide effort to promote exercise and healthy eating."
As of January 2008, the market was drawing an average of 350 families a month, according to staff."
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Increasing the Availability of Fresh Produce and Nutritional and Public Health Education to a Low-Income, Minority Population
Harlem Children's Zone (New York, NY)
Dates: December 2005 to November 2006
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
"Health and Nutrition Parent Survey," Harlem Children's Zone, fielded November 2005March 2006.
"Health and Nutrition Parent Survey," Harlem Children's Zone, fielded December 2006.
Report prepared by: Eve Shapiro
Reviewed by: Michael H. Brown
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Dwayne C. Proctor