Buffalo farmers markets aim to provide healthier foods

Jul 3, 2018

Across Western New York, farmers’ markets can be found in just about every community, and each one has its own style. In two Buffalo neighborhoods, markets cater to unique communities – ones without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

In the heart of downtown, people crowd a stretch of Main Street only accessible by foot and by light rail. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the summer, the block between Church and Court Streets becomes the Downtown Country Market. It sits amid businesses, government buildings and a growing number of residences.

“So we have kind of a variety as the season progresses. Different fruits and vegetables that are available from our growers that participate with us on a weekly basis,” said Jackie Jonmaire, marketing manager for Buffalo Place, which runs the market.

The market is in a prime location for downtown workers, but since produce isn’t the only thing sold there, Jonmaire also presents it as an asset for people who live downtown.

“And to be able to provide to a resident a place where they could pick up a bag of apples, or some asparagus for dinner, or a hanging basket for their front porch,” she explained.

A small store up the block from the Downtown Country Farmers' market is one of this neighborhoods only other shopping options, but its shelves feature more packaged foods than fresh items.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

With the exception of a sparse supply of apples, oranges, and bananas at a corner store up the street, there aren’t any good options for healthy shopping nearby. Downtown worker Eric Weigel knows there’s almost nowhere go.

“There is a Tops on Niagara Street,” Weigel said. “But other than that it’s – as you know – it’s a limited resource. The farmers’ market does fill in that gap.”

That Tops supermarket is a mile away – not a quick trip on a short lunch break. For Weigel and many others, the farmers market offers a chance to bring something home to the family.

Just over four miles away, on the East Side, a true food desert exists.

For the last decade, the Erie County Medical Center has run a Friday farmers’ market in the heart of a community where residents generally have low income.

“In the past we’ve had the free summer lunch program for youth. We do a program called power the produce, where folks come out and learn about fruits and vegetables. Every week it’s something different,” said Kelly Showard Director of Community Relations for ECMC.

Allison DeHonney of Urban Fruits and Veggies restocks her table at the ECMC Farmers' Market.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Showard runs the market, which is tucked away in a lot that can be easy to miss on busy Grider Street. So promoting it to hospital staff and the community is key.

“So how do you make fruits and vegetables affordable? How do we make sure that people have the opportunity to learn more? Often times, we find that people are comfortable eating what they eat because they don’t know what something else may taste like,” said Showard.

For this community, the access to fresh foods is critical. The neighborhood is filled with corner stores, but no places offering the kind of produce this market does. The nearest option for residents like Helen Benson is an Aldi’s two miles away.

“I have a vehicle, but it’s still far,” said Benson. “What about people that don’t have a vehicle?”

Allison DeHonney’s company, Urban Fruits and Veggies, is one of the small selection of vendors at the market. She ran the list of just a few of the day’s options on the table at her booth.

“We have our locally grown Swiss chard and mustard greens, scarlet frills. We have local asparagus by a farmer in Niagara County. We have locally grown strawberries that were just harvested on Wednesday from a local farmer.”

DeHonney grows her greens just two miles away on an urban farm, but she partners with other farmers to expand her offerings. In a community not used to having any fruits and vegetables, it’s important not to keep the selection limited.

ECMC's farmers' market features numerous tables of health and service information.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Both the downtown markets and ECMC’s offer demonstrations of how to use fruits and veggies in more versatile ways – from an unexpected blueberry salsa to smoothies made in bicycle-powered blenders. But ECMC’s market has a broader mission. It makes services available, too.

“This week we have an organization here talking about foster parenting and adoption. We have dental out today. We have a wide range of community and provider-base outreach happening,” she said.

It’s just another way to promote a healthy lifestyle.