Story #13

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Heights seniors take the healthy lead

BronxWorks-Sponsored Heights Community Farmers Market
& Heights Senior Center

There’s nothing quite like the crisp, colorful array of fresh produce picked the same day you put it on your table. But that was a rarity in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx, where a decent variety of fresh fruits and vegetables was not available or affordable.

Eager for change, seniors from the BronxWorks Heights Senior Center and River Park Towers took the lead in creating the Seniors’ Community Food Access Project in 2010. The project increases access, affordability, and quality of healthy food. It also raises awareness of healthy food options for low-income residents of a community that suffers from high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Coordinated by Rob Moore, BronxWorks Community Organizer, the seniors started simply, organizing an indoor produce stand and selling 1,200 pounds of fresh produce to the community. They managed the promotion, sales, and operation of the stand, all of which was training for their ultimate goal: the neighborhood's first farmers market, managed by the seniors.

Additional preparation for the farmers market took place at the community garden at the corner of Grand Street and West Tremont Avenue. It is a verdant patch of vegetation, tended by seniors, neighbors, and students from the nearby middle school. They raised the garden beds so seniors could avoid kneeling and bending.

On a recent visit to the garden, Elizabeth, a member of the Heights Senior Center, reminisced about a childhood in the south, where her family grew almost everything they cooked and ate, so gardening came naturally to her.

Today, Elizabeth and many others now reap the rewards of their labors. Their dream goal, the Heights Community Farmers Market, was successfully launched in June and is held every Thursday at University Avenue and West 181st Street.

Elizabeth, now a community chef at the market, says this helps her “to connect with the past and create new memories.” The above photo shows Elizabeth (left) and another senior, Maria, conducting one of the cooking demos.

The market is a hub of activity that offers a bounty of just-picked produce at affordable prices, including some specialty items not available in local grocery stores. Two times a month, a live cooking demonstration is presented by seniors using ingredients from the community garden and the farmers’ stalls.

“These are the first steps of bringing healthy food into the community. The seniors are very excited about educating the community to eat healthier and giving people other ideas and options for what to feed their kids,” says Rosalina Luongo, Heights Senior Center Director.

Many meetings and bags of fresh produce later, healthy and affordable food options are available to the residents of the poorest congressional district in the country, spearheaded by a group of hard-working and energetic seniors. It is an example of BronxWorks’ efforts to improve the economic and social well-being of our Bronx neighbors. We couldn’t do it without many great friends who also believe that lifting lives and building futures is a vitally important endeavor in the Bronx.

The BronxWorks Heights Senior Center is one of five BronxWorks senior centers designed to meet seniors’ social, recreational, and health needs and create a support system to help seniors live better lives. The Heights Community Farmers Market, funded by the New York Community Trust, is an initiative led by seniors from the Heights Senior Center and River Park Towers complex. Questions or comments? Send them to info@bronxworks.org.

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