New offerings for a healthy diet

Downtown farmers market expands vendor list

Historic Downtown SID farmers market is one of the most successful in Jersey City.
Historic Downtown SID farmers market is one of the most successful in Jersey City.

Rainy days and Mondays aren’t getting merchants at the Historic Downtown farmers market down, though rain can dampen sales.

Held on Mondays and Thursdays, the downtown market is one of the city’s hottest, partly because of its location on the Grove Street plaza.

“Commuters come out of the station and stop at the market,” said Rachel Sieg, executive director of the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District (HDSID) which oversees the market.

The market is open every Monday and Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. until Dec. 21.

While Jersey City has a number of successful farmers markets, the downtown market has a logistical advantage outside the PATH that vendors want to take advantage of.

“This year we have 35 vendors, last year we had 20 to 25,” Sieg reported. “It is growing every year and we have a waiting list. Because Jersey City is growing, and so many people live in the area, a lot of people are stopping in.”

Unlike many of the other farmers markets in Jersey City, the downtown market has to take care that it does not bring in vendors who will complete with local businesses.

Markets elsewhere in the city such as the Riverview Park Market in the Heights and the market in Lincoln Park are not close to neighborhood businesses. In some cases, the markets provide a necessary piece in the food puzzle, providing fresh and healthy choices in areas that are considered food deserts without produce markets or supermarkets.

Downtown, hardly a food desert, is packed with quality eating establishments. So, the board that oversees what vendors are accepted makes sure that the market is adding to, not competing with, existing food services.

The idea is to give area residents access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy choices, but also encourage them to shop locally.

“We want people in the district to go out to have dinner at local restaurants, but also find other items they might need at our market,” Sieg said. “For instance, we do not have vendors who sell pizza or barbecue. We do not have ice cream vendors. We want people to go to Downtown Yogurt,” across Grove Street from the market.

Satisfied sellers 

Every vendor has to be approved by the HDSID board.

“We always have a full house,” Sieg declared, meaning that all the vendors are on hand each day. “They are there rain or shine. They are a tough lot and will go a long way to make sure they’re open when commuters come off the train.”

“Monday is usually our busiest day,” said Estefan of Paolo’s Kitchen, a New Providence-based company that sells frozen food that can be quickly cooked “for people on the go.”

Paolo’s is a regular at the market. People in the very urban downtown area like what they have to offer.

Mike from the Kearny-based Stella’s Empanadas agrees that downtown is a great place to do business.

“We’ve been here for seven years,” Mike reported, selling his special meat pies and other goodies. What sells best?

“Everything,” Mike proclaimed.

John, JC Fish Stand’s owner, realized that when he moved to Jersey City with his wife, there was no place to find fresh seafood, so he decided to sell it himself.

JC Fish Stand has been selling its products at the downtown market for about  four years.

“Most of what we offer is caught in the wild or comes from respectable hatcheries,” said Andy, who works the stand. He calls it “sustainable fish.”

“JC Fish stand started out at the market,” Sieg reported. “They later found a storefront.”  The brick-and-mortar shop is at 508 Jersey Ave.

Monday is usually busy,” Andy said, laughing as he looked out from under his tent at the still-gray sky promising more rain. The most popular item, he said, is the organic salmon.

Sweet somethings 

Another local business that started out at the market is Bang Cookies, Sieg said. “They wanted to find a store downtown. When they couldn’t, they opened in the Heights. But we helped them find a place on Newark Avenue where they intend to open a satellite store.”

Sieg revealed that  the market has several “sweet offerings” this year, including one vendor that offers organic and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

“These taste just like regular chocolate chip cookies, but they’re not made with flour,” Sieg said.

Another vendor sells traditional scones and crumb cakes.

When announcing the opening of this year’s farmers market season, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced, “Farmers’ markets are crucial to the community because they provide easy access to healthy, fresh produce. For this reason, this year, the city has expanded markets to additional parts of the city. These markets also accept SNAP, WIC, and senior vouchers. Many are open until December, and some happen twice a week.”

The markets include those at Van Vorst Park, Paulus Hook, Historic Downtown SID, Hamilton Park, Journal Square Green Market, Riverview Park, Lincoln Park, and Arlington Park.

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