Rutgers, Johnson & Johnson, and New Brunswick bring farmers market to city residents
Latin music punctuates the thick summer air as children chase each other past colorful Oaxacan carvings and tables piled high with ripe corn, jalapeños, tomatoes, and berries. Welcome to the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market, a lively mercado that comes to life twice a week on a grassy corner of the George H. Cook Campus.
The festive atmosphere serves as a magnet for residents of the city’s Second Ward as well as passersby. Every Tuesday and Friday, they come for locally grown produce and activities not usually found at open-air markets.
On market days, patrons might find Rutgers Assistant Professor/Extension Specialist Nurgül Fitzgerald offering nutrition tips and recipes, or students from Elijah’s Promise Jobs Culinary School demonstrating cooking techniques. Teresa Vivar might be selling arts and crafts with city youngsters in the bilingual 4-H club she leads, while free health screenings are offered a few feet away. At another table, food science students are selling Rutgers ice cream churned in their cooking labs.
“The market aims to be a family-friendly gathering place for the community, where farmers, artisans, and craftspeople sell their goods, and customers can taste new foods and learn new recipes,” said William Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers. Hallman spearheaded the market’s creation, consulting with local organizations such as Elijah’s Promise and Lazos America Unida about the community’s needs.
“It’s a place where people can buy both familiar ‘Jersey Fresh’ fruits and vegetables as well as more exotic produce used in the diverse cuisines of area residents, many of whom have roots in the Mexican state of Oaxaca,” Hallman said.
The market – which opened in July and runs through the end of September – is a collaborative effort by Rutgers, Johnson & Johnson, and New Brunswick to make healthful foods and nutrition information more accessible to the community.
“One of the goals of the farmers market is to provide affordable, culturally appropriate, nutritious fruits and vegetables and nutrition education to help influence healthy lifestyle choices,” said Colleen Goggins, worldwide chair of Johnson & Johnson’s Consumer Group and Executive Committee member.
Goggins was among the opening-day speakers, who also included Yvette Jackson, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, and Douglas Fisher, New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture.
The effort embraces the mission of Rutgers Against Hunger, which was established by President Richard L. McCormick last fall to address the issues of hunger and food insecurity through education, research, and civic engagement.
McCormick noted that “the more we can do to make nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables within reach and affordable, the better we can work to prevent such problems as childhood obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic health conditions.”
The new market accepts government vouchers from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market is the second farmers market operated by Rutgers. Launched in 2008, the Rutgers Gardens Farmers Market on Ryders Lane is open on Fridays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
David Byrne of Pop’s Farm Market in Monroe, one of four Middlesex County farmers selling at the new market, said he sold two bushels of jalapeño peppers on opening day.
“The hot peppers appeal to the Mexican customers,” Byrne said. “They’re happy we’re here.”
The New Brunswick Community Farmers Market is located at 178 Jones Avenue, at the intersection of Jones Avenue and Georges Road. It is open Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. through September. For more information, call 732-932-5000, ext. 586, or visit the website.