Cars lined up at the eastern end of the Baldwin Long Island Rail Road station, between Milburn Avenue and North Brookside Avenue, last Saturday to fill up on fresh produce at the Cedarmore Corporation’s drive-through, weekly farmers market.
Cedarmore, a non-profit organization based in Freeport, has run the farmers market since 2012 to support Long Island farmers and provide jobs to local youths.
While Program Director Debra Wheat-Williams, of Baldwin, had worried that the market would unable to operate this year because of the pandemic, the program carried on by converting to a drive-through market in July, allowing more than 100 customers a week to order food at a distance while teens and young adults prepare their orders.
“We decided to open this year on a hope and a prayer,” Wheat-Williams said. “It’s working out great, and although we can get long lines, people are willing to wait.”
Not just a market
In 2012, Sandra Gales Jenkins, a retired nurse from Roosevelt, first heard about the newly formed farmers market program.
She had been attending mass at Zion Cathedral church, in Freeport, when she met a representative from Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic development, environmental health and equity for all Long Islanders. Gales Jenkins was interested in starting a community garden when the representative introduced her to fellow Freeport High School graduate Wheat-Williams.
“I learned about the program and that they were starting their own community garden, so I started helping out,” Gales Jenkins said. “I’ve been with them ever since, and now I’m assistant director.”
The program originally ran out of the Freeport Recreation Center, where Wheat-Williams, Gales Jenkins and other adult volunteers recruited about two dozen youths to work at the farmers market every year.
Not only would teens and young adults earn money, but also they would also pick up a solid work ethic and become more career-oriented.
“The goal of this program is to prepare our youths for the workforce,” Wheat-Williams said. “We teach them all we can, give them letters of recommendation and serve as references – anything we can do to help them.”
By 2013, the program expanded to include the community garden, where youths ages 8 to 18 can help harvest produce. The garden has about 20 garden beds.
In 2014, Cedarmore teamed up with Nassau County to create a mobile market program, for which farmers market staff travel to low-income senior housing complexes to sell their produce. The county Office for the Aging provides Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks for the seniors, which are used to pay for the food.
Wheat-Williams said seniors waste a great deal of money on public transportation to get to farmers markets, rendering the point of the nutrition checks moot. So the best way for seniors to take advantage of the money was to bring the market to their homes.
“Through the farmers market, community garden and mobile market, we do everything we can to make sure our communities benefit,” Wheat-Williams said, “because this isn’t just a farmers market. This is a community.”
Serving your communities
Imani Jackson, 21, of Freeport, was 14 years old when she first began working at the farmers market.
Jackson, a student at Spelman College, an Historically Black College in Atlanta, said she enjoyed gardening with her grandfather at home, so when she learned she could work at the farmers market and community garden, she jumped at the chance.
Now, seven years later, she works as a market manager, supervising younger employees, setting up the market and dealing with customer service.
“This is the first job many of us got,” Jackson said. “It’s helped me focus on the community I live in and lets me provide food to those who need it most.”
Youth Manager Jalen Bunch, 18, of West Hempstead, echoed the sentiment and said it was important for him to provide aid to low-income communities that might depend on the farmers market for fresh, affordable produce.
This is Bunch’s first year working at the farmers market, where he is tasked with unpacking the food, filling up baskets and helping to manage the flow of traffic through the drive-through market.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the workers needed to take additional training courses from the county to be able to work at the farmers market.
Bunch, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, said the training helped bring the young group of employees together as they completed a six-hour contact-tracing course to help them understand how best to combat the spread of Covid-19. “I learned a whole bunch of things I never knew about Covid,” he said, “and now we’re fully certified and know how to keep things clean and safe.”
Gale Jenkins added that she used her experience as a nurse to teach the employees how to stay safe when the market first opened this summer. She also asks customers to maintain social distancing and stay in their cars while the employees fill their baskets.
Charlie Southwick, 71, of Freeport, has been a regular at the farmers market since it first opened at the recreation center. Although the pandemic has caused a long line of traffic at the market, he said he does not mind the wait for his usual order of tomatoes and romaine lettuce.
“I’ve tried growing my own tomatoes at home, but they just don’t compare to the ones they have here,” Southwick said. “The staff is friendly and courteous, so I always stick through the wait when I can’t get here early.”
The farmers market is open every Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will also be a special trunk-or-treat event on Halloween for local children.
To learn more about the program, visit cedarmorefarms.org.