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Queens Needs Greenmarkets

TimesLedger Newspapers

Hunger is a daunting and sometimes invisible problem in Queens. Even in some of the borough’s more affluent neighborhoods, working couples and single mothers struggle to feed their families — another statistic among the data showing that one in six Americans suffers from what the government calls “food insufficiency.”

Back in 2009-11, before Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of the borough’s safety net for the poor, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger estimated that 17 percent of Queens residents had insufficient food, up from 13 percent in 2006-08. Food pantries were overwhelmed, particularly as the recession eliminated marginal jobs, and the demand for food stamps rose.

After the hurricane, the numbers continued to rise and now one in four children in the city is classified as hungry.

A new report from the City Council about food stamps has delivered encouraging news. At the city-run greenmarkets, food stamp use has surged by 30 percent over the past year. The Council has paid for Electronic Benefits Transfer card scanners at the greenmarkets since 2006 and food stamp users have gotten the message that fresh food is an option for them, too.

The trend has also paid big dividends to the small farmers who supply the produce and greenmarkets.

The Corona and Astoria greenmarkets get more than 65 percent of their revenue from food stamp users with EBT cards and Health Bucks, which expand their buying power for fresh food. The markets also take coupons from a federal program to bring locally grown food to the nation’s needy.

The Council report found that when healthy food is made available to low-income New Yorkers, an increasing majority of their food stamp dollars have been spent on produce and other elements of a balanced diet as the share spent on baked goods declined.

What is needed in Queens is more greenmarkets in neighborhoods where many families rely on food stamps but have limited access to healthy food. Fast food chains beckon and the corner bodega has little to offer in terms of produce.

Of the city’s 54 greenmarkets, the county lays claim to eight, all in western Queens. Southeast Queens would benefit greatly from a greenmarket. It’s time for the city to bring more fresh and affordable produce to this hungry outerborough.

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