Belleville will partner with an out-of-town nonprofit to produce its first Farmers Market program, expected to debut this summer.
Third Ward Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli, who is spearheading the effort, said he’s hoping to piggyback off the “hugely successful” Green Fair the township sponsored at the Belleville High School campus last year.
“The main goal (of the Farmers Market) is to get some quality produce out to residents — especially many of our senior citizens — who may otherwise not get access to those products,” Cozzarelli said.
To that end, the township is enlisting help from Montclair Community Farms, a local nonprofit whose mission, its website explains, “is to serve as a local hands-on resource that engages and educates the community through urban farming, affordable food access and healthy living.”
The group sells its products from two Montclair-based “mobile farm stands” on Fridays from mid-June through the end of October and those stands accept SNAP vouchers, thereby doubling the value of spending.
This year it will also operate “pop-up markets” in other Essex County communities such as Cedar Grove, Orange and Belleville.
Cozzarelli and MCF Director Lana Mustafa said the plan for Belleville is to set up shop on the third Saturday of the month, beginning June 18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Belleville High School campus through Sept. 17.
Up to 10 students from Belleville High will be afforded the opportunity to apply for what Cozzarelli and Mustafa called “paid internships” — underwritten by grants — as sort of farmers-in-training. They’ll visit Montclair to see how their natural organic foods are grown, help with the loading of produce for transport to Belleville and with running the food stand.
“We’ll be harvesting lettuce, squash and vegetables,” Mustafa said, “and we’ll have specialty items like honey, granola, pancake mixes, homemade pasta and artisan bread.”
Cozzarelli noted: “We’ll also be opening up space to local vendors, like a coffee shop that roasts its own beans. Also, possibly local craftspeople will have a chance to sell their products, too. We are trying to keep registration fees (for vendor booths) as low as possible, maybe $20 or $25 per booth.”
There may be a rotation of different food products and sundries each month, Cozzarelli said.
“We want it to be an ever-changing thing,” he said.
Every effort, the councilman said, will be made to get members of Belleville’s elderly to the market.
“During the pandemic, a lot of seniors have been reluctant to leave the house, so now that the situation appears to be improving, we want to give them the opportunity to shop for healthy and affordable produce.”
Cozzarelli said he plans to get the word out about the market via social media posts, the township website and the local Senior Club.
“Our Health Department also has a list of seniors where we do wellness visits so they’ll be alerted as well,”he said. “Our ‘green team’s message will be, ‘Shop local, eat healthy.’”
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York