Part Three – Farmers Markets

It became clear very quickly that my original plan for studying farmers markets in the bronx was not attainable. There were simply not enough resources to use to get in contact with the markets. Even though this was frustrating, it did prove my hypothesis that they would be relatively inaccessible. There are factors related to this problem. The economic and health statuses of residents of the Bronx are low. I began to study these areas to better understand the food situation in my borough. Even though the Bronx is not the heart of New York City, it still faces the many obstacles of an urban area. Pollution of all kinds is rampant in the Bronx. During the middle of the 20th Century, the Cross Bronx Expressway was built. This major roadway split the Bronx in two and destroyed neighborhoods. It was necessary to connect the North to the George Washington Bridge, which leads to New Jersey. Today, it is a rarity to see no traffic backups on this highway. The Bronx is flooded with cars and commercial trucks added dramatic amounts of air, noise, water, and visual pollution. The major roadways also lower the property value of the areas because no one wants to live near nonstop traffic. Therefore, only lower classes are left with no other option. This is why it is no surprise that Bronx residents have such poor health. According to the 2017 County Health Records for New York published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, the Bronx is ranked last in Health Outcomes and Health Factors in the entire state. New York is one of the largest states in the country, and the Bronx is ranked 62 out of 62 counties. This is a tragic situation. Health Outcomes consists of length of life and quality of life. Health Records consists of health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Under each specific health factor, the Bronx is ranked 62, except for health behaviors where it falls 58th. One of the factors this study took into consideration is food environment index. Unfortunately, it only provides a small description. The description tells us that only two variables are measured, which are USDA’s Food Environment Atlas of access to healthy foods and food insecurity from Feeding America. Both of these simply mean that people are close to food. Unsurprisingly, the Bronx scored a 7.1 out of 10. This is close to the average and sounds relatively optimistic. However, like I mentioned before the number of grocery stores is not the issue. There are almost 2 million Bronx residents in 42 square feet of land. It is a crowded place with many stores and shopping centers because it is an urban area. The issue is that these grocery stores are not quality. I’ve spent a lot of time in different states and countries, where I have visited many grocery stores, since I personally do a lot of the grocery shopping and planning for my family. The different between stores in the Bronx and stores in other areas is drastic. Shortly after I started living in Virginia, I noticed how great these differences are and often commented on the state of the Bronx. When I reflect on it, which this project forced me to do, it makes me angry that the Bronx has become the way it is. New York City is an extremely wealthy city, however so little of that money is diverted to the people in need in the Bronx. This is what motivated me to start researching the economics of the Bronx and the entire New York City. This included the finances of individuals and the public government. I already mentioned how the income of families in the Bronx is half of those in Manhattan. Researching the budget of New York City was not an easy task. Especially for someone with little economic background, public money is extremely complicated. Even though it is public information, these are so many parts that is it difficult to even know where to begin. I tried as best as I could. I was hoping to discover a breakdown of the budget by borough. However, there is little mention of the individual borough. Instead, the budget is broken down by departments. Since the budgets of each department is more significant than the budgets of the boroughs, the areas where people are willing to reach out to their politicians and public servants are more likely to receive more funding. This theme runs true for many areas. People with money and resources, especially time, are more willing to receive the benefits of the government. Bronx residents are not going to typically do that. When people are suffering in an area, the complexities of the society are also working together to bring them down.

Part Two – Farmers Markets

I focused on farmers markets in the Bronx because the Bronx is not a affluent area. Many people dismiss the Bronx being part of New York City because it does not convey the same culture and excitement as the other boroughs. The Bronx is known for being poor, dangerous, and dirty. This reputation is hurts it even more because people don’t want to bother with it. The Bronx needs help, especially when it comes to affordable and healthy food. Farmers markets are an alternative to grocery markets, which the Bronx lacks quality versions of. My family as well as many of friends’ families buy groceries right outside of the Bronx in the wealthier county of Westchester. Farmers markets are a way to introduce people to foods in way they can’t in a store. The market is a much more intimate setting where people create connections since they are scheduled typically weekly and are an event. People become regulars. My ambition for this project was to study the markets by going to them and volunteering. This was much more difficult than I anticipated. The Bronx markets are much smaller and less popular than their counterparts in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Even researching and googling them was a task. There was little presence and advertisement of them online. There was only one source that contained a list of the markets. The site was called Bronx Buzz NYC. The page provided information on “Opening Dates, Hours, Items & How To Shop – Bronx Farmers Markets.” Bronx Buzz NYC publishes articles about the Bronx, however the website does not seem credible. There are no authors listed on the articles. Since this was the only source I found about farmers markets in the Bronx, I had to go with it. It provides a directory that is divided into the four areas of the Bronx: South, Central, North West, and East. There are 9 in the South Bronx, 6 in the Central Bronx, 4 in the North West Bronx, and 3 in the East Bronx. Many of the details on these markets were listed as “TBD.” The information was the same in May and August. Also, Bronx Buzz NYC could not confirm the details about many of the markets. Farmers markets in NYC are usually controlled by GrowNYC, CityHarvest, and HarvestHome. These are all well-established organization that believe in fighting food inequality and providing easier access to healthy food. These are the only points of contact to these markets. There are no emails or phone numbers provided to contact the markets. For the ones connected to a website, I emailed about volunteer information. However, I never received any contact in return. A handful of them have facebook pages, which was the easiest way to gather information. Only 3 had links to websites. One of which had little to no information. If they are not getting the word out about the markets online, I assume they create a physical presence in neighborhoods. However, none of the markets are in my area of the Bronx. I’ve never seen advertisements about the markets on the street. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, farmers markets provide a different purpose. While the ones in the Bronx are hoping to help low-income residents, Brooklyn and Manhattan are full of innovative, trendy vendors. It is not out of necessity. When you search the best farmers markets in New York City, the Bronx is never mentioned. The top ones are extremely well-known, such as Grand Army Plaza, Union Square, and Natural History Museum. GrowNYC hosts their version of a farmers market, called a Greenmarket. There are 23 in Manhattan and only 5 in the Bronx. They are all situated in the West Bronx. The median household income in Manhattan is $77,559, while the median household income in the Bronx is $37,525. This is greater than a 2:1 ratio. Poverty in the Bronx is 28.7% and 17.3% in Manhattan. There are more people in Manhattan, but the Bronx is twice the size. There is great inequality in New York City. The Bronx does not have access to well-run and affordable grocery stores. I’ve been grocery shopping with my family for as long as I can remember, and we only shop in the Bronx if we are in desperate need for something. My family has the means to travel for food. Many in the borough can not say the same. Recently, my friend living in the South Bronx purchased chicken from the local grocery store and the whole house of seven was bedridden with food poisoning. These stores are not well-supervised or maintained. This is a serious issue because food is so essential to people’s health. When people do not have good health, they are not work or afford health care. In theory, farmers markets would be a great solution, but the Bronx is lacking in those as well.

Part One – Farmers Markets

My research project revolves around food accessibility and health of people living in the Bronx. I am focusing on farmer’s markets because they have a specific culture, which is often associated with healthier food choices and local produce. In addition to researching these areas, I experimented in my own life by attempting to grow my own produce. The plan was to try varied methods of growing food to see how successful it could be. Growing your own food is a luxury because it takes significant money, time, and effort. All of these factors were a part of the process and understanding. As a Bronx resident myself, I was figuring out what it was like to farm in an urban environment. There were two main areas where I grew produce. One was own home and the other was my grandparent’s (also in the Bronx, only a couple miles from my home). My home has very limited grass and soil spaces, like much of the Bronx. My grandparents have a considerable amount more. There is only one circular space that was available for me to plant in. Luckily, my father agreed to move some seagrass so I could have the space. The diameter of this space was no greater than four feet, which for planting is very small. Most plants need space to grow above and below the soil. To increase the space available at my home, my father and I built a vertical garden out of a wooden palette. After researching the financials and success of other vertical methods, such as a hanging shoe organizer, gutters, and PVC pipes, this was the best option for us. Wooden palette are often found being disposed of from big stores, moving companies, or construction projects. It was very accessible for us. Even with the addition of the vertical garden, the space now had four more rows of about 4in x 4ft with a 6in depth. Still this was a very tight space. My grandparents have a larger yard than I do, which is mostly grass and soil area. There was a unused space towards the back of their property. Previously, it was inhabited by a swing set, so there was very fake cheap turd covering the soil for about two decades. The space is about 10ft x 15ft. In preparation, I had to rip off the layers of turf and plow and rake the soil by hand. This was the most difficult task of the whole process. There was a good amount of space for the plants to grow in this area. I added pavers to divide the rows and create a path so I could water easily. Next, I started planting. For my grandparent’s home, I purchased 15 already growing plants from Home Depot. They were on sale for 5 for $15. Five of them were different types of tomatoes. Two were sugar snap peas. One was strawberries. One was eggplant. One was zucchini. One was cilantro. One was bell peppers. Two were basil. They were all spread almost a foot apart in three rows with five in each. Since I did not get to the Bronx until the middle of May, this was too late to start by planting seeds. I had no other choice but to start by purchasing plants. It is important to mention that none of them were organic. However, I did not add anything to the soil. I only watered them and infrequently sprinkled used coffee grounds as a natural fertilizer. At my home, my options were even more limited. I did not have the space to grow vegetables. Instead, I mostly stuck to herbs. As gifts, I received a LED grow light (priced around $30) and organic seed packets for 10 herbs. A grow light is a way to provide artificial sunlight that you can control. I rigged the grow light to hang under a table in the corner of my house, so the temperature, water, and ‘sunlight’ were all being handled by me. It was difficult to find a place for the device to hang at the specific height it needed to. I can imagine other users having many problems. Under the grow light, I planted 18 cups with 9 kinds of seeds in organic soil. Each kind had two cups and there were approximately 2-4 seeds in each cup, but that depended on the size of the seeds. The only kind of herb I did not plant from the packet was dill because the packaging said it would not transplant well. I watered them regularly and kept the light on for about 18 hours a day to simulate natural sunlight. Once they sprouted big enough to support themselves (after about a month), I moved them outside for a week to become accustomed to the weather. Then. I transplanted them into the vertical garden. Not all of the herbs sprouted. Less than half were successful. In the circular garden, I bought two basil plants and one parsley plant. I also put two tomato plants in the vertical garden to make a direct comparison to my grandparent’s home. Over the last four months, I’ve monitoring and taking care of them. Overall, this was an extremely time consuming effort, but it was not a financial burden.

The Affordability and Accessibility of Farmers Markets in the Bronx

I will be studying the interactions between farmers markets and low income neighborhoods. Farmers markets are often regarded as places where people have the privilege to afford organic and locally grown produce. They also associate with a culture of health and earth-conscious hipsters. In my hometown of the Bronx, there are many people living under the poverty line. It is an extremely overpopulated and underfunded area, where people suffer from failing infrastructure and polluted parks. There is also huge movement of farmers markets trying to reach these neighborhoods. I want to find out if these farmers markets, which are often associated with food justice organizations, are helping the Bronx residents in need or only further polarizing them. I will be volunteering at several farmers markets throughout the Bronx throughout the month of June. While I work, I will be observing the buying and selling, the quality of products, and the attitudes towards customers. By volunteering with the organizations, I will be able to understand their perspective and motivations. This projects seeks to uncover the inequality felt by many Bronx residents and how such a basic need is neglected.