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Queensbridge Residents Welcome Fresh Produce Program

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | August 30, 2012 8:36am

LONG ISLAND CITY — Fresh fruit and veggies have been scarce around the Queensbridge Houses.

But now, thanks to a new initiative, which officially kicked off in Long Island City Wednesday, residents of the housing development will be able to buy a bag full of fresh produce from local farms once-a-week.

The bag will cost $10 and will contain produce like lettuce, eggplant, spring squash, kale, onions, tomatoes, basil, parsley, plums and peaches as well as some useful recipes, said Elizabeth Gregg, wholesale community outreach coordinator at GrowNYC. Vegetables for the initiative come from a farm in Pennsylvania and fruit from farms in New York.

Residents who want to participate have to sign up and prepay for the bag, using cash, credit or EBT cards at the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement House. Then a week later they can pick up their food there.

Chris Hanway, director of development and communications at the Jacon Riis Neighborhood Settlement House was excited the program had become available in a neighborhood “where high quality and affordable food is hard to get” and where many residents struggle with obesity and diabetes.

“There is a lot of junk food in this area,” he said.

A community supported agriculture program was introduced in the area a couple of years ago, but because it was more expensive and required long term commitment, like buying shares, it didn’t work.

“It’s absolutely needed in this community,” said Vanessa Quinones, 44, a resident who works as a director for middle school programming at P.S. 126.

She signed up for the program last week and this week went to pick up her first bag of food. “Everything looks fresh and good. And $10 is not a lot.” For the seven people in her household, a “big bag of fresh food will help,” she said.

Quinones, who has lived in the area for 17 years, said she doesn’t shop in the neighborhood stores because “prices are inflated” and there is “no quality ,” instead buying fruit and vegetables in supermarkets in Astoria.

Ramona Etheridge, 63, a retired nurse, was also happy to see the program in the neighborhood and added she was planning to sign up for it soon. “People like to have fresh fruit and vegetables,” she said. “It’s nice.”

According to the office of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose office allocated $10,000 for the initiative, more than 60 residents have already signed up for the program and they hoped more people would be using it soon.

But some residents thought $10 is too much.

“The program is good for the community but it should be cheaper,” said Bessie, a long-time resident who did not to give her last name. She also said she had been getting some fresh fruit and veggies from a local food pantry.

The program will be available in the Queensbridge Houses until November. It has also been running in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and will soon be introduced in East Harlem.