Montclair BID chief grilled by council on farmers’ market plan
By LINDA MOSS
A farmers’ market is coming to Crane Park, and a community garden is also in the works for the plot of land, although the initiator of those two projects apologized to the Township Council Tuesday night for not going through the proper protocol to get both projects rolling.
Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, appeared at the local governing body’s conference meeting to answer any questions about the planned farmers’ market and the garden, efforts that may help address the Fourth Ward’s status as a so-called food desert.
The BID has received township permits to debut the Crane Park Market at the triangular park, which is at Glenridge and Greenwood avenues, starting this Sunday. But Cronk said he had not been aware that he should have had the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, as well as other township officials such as Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville, in the loop about those plans. The BID announced its plans last week, which Baskerville said sparked a number of inquiries from residents who worried that the farmers’ market would cause congestion by the park and the garden might hinder pedestrians from walking through it.
The Crane Park farmers’ market is slated to debut this Sunday. From then on the market will be open on Thursdays from 3 to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. It will continue until September or October, according to Cronk.
At the council meeting Cronk explained the BID is essentially relocating a small farmers’ market, which was ancillary to the main large township farmers’ market at the Walnut Street train station, Cronk said. That smaller market was held on South Park Street last year, and then moved to the Church Street parking lot, but it floundered, he said.
“We were actually about to walk away from it because we couldn’t find a place until the township came to our rescue,” Cronk said.
Profeta Farms, a certified organic livestock and vegetable farm, will be supplying food to the farmers’ market, including meats, cheeses, eggs and all types of produce, Cronk said. The vendor, based in Neshanic Station, had been slated to open a 25,000-square-foot organic market in Flemington, but that project got delayed and Profeta Farms was looking for a place to sell its surplus food, Cronk told the council.
He added that he only recently learned, after being the executive director of the BID for 18 months, that his organization was supposed to be maintaining Crane Park, which had become overgrown with weeds and had lots of trash, like broken bottles. When he learned the site was under the BID’s jurisdiction, he said he saw it as a good site to relocate the farmers’ market.
In addition to the farmers’ market, the BID is working with community activist Daniel Cruz and the Northeast Earth Coalition Inc., led by Jose German-Gomez, to create a community garden on two of six plots of land at Crane Park, which is about a third of an acre.
This past Saturday and Sunday Cruz hosted a community clean-up at the park for volunteers to get rid of weeds and trash and prepare the site for planting and the market. Roughly 25 people took part in the clean-up this weekend, according to Cronk. Cruz planned to start off the garden with herbs, Cronk said, but Baskerville suggested that perhaps flowers would be a better option.
Mayor Robert Jackson told Cronk that he didn’t want to “send you the wrong message” about the plans for the park and citizens wanting to start a garden there.
“This is what community is all about, people getting together and doing great things,” Jackson said, adding it was “cool by me,” but that better communication to the township of what was happening was needed.
The activity at Crane Park follows a call for interim food sources to be provided for the Fourth Ward until a supermarket is built at Lackawanna Plaza, replacing the Pathmark that closed in November 2015. A controversial redevelopment plan for the site, which will be developed by Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, is before the Township Council.
That plan calls for a mixed-use development that would be anchored by a supermarket that’s at least 40,000 square feet, and the developers have said they are in talks with ShopRite to put a mega-market at Lackawanna Plaza as an anchor store for the project.
But it will be several years before any grocery store would be built and completed, and meanwhile some residents around Lackawanna Plaza — particularly the poor and elderly who don’t have cars — don’t have easy access to inexpensive and healthy food. As a result of that scarcity, some have labeled the Fourth Ward a food desert.
Cronk and Cruz have been crusading for ways to help residents out until Lackawanna Plaza is redeveloped, and originally sought to bring a farmers’ market to its parking lot. But the developers balked at that plan.
As for the community garden, Cruz said it will start with two plots of the park and eventually expand to several more plots.
“We want to start small and build on our successes,” Cronk said.
The plan is for residents eventually to plant some of the plots and for some of the crops to be donated to local food pantries and kitchens, according to Cruz.
“This will be a demonstrative garden to show people how to do it themselves, because it doesn’t require a lot of money,” Cruz said in an interview. “It just requires time and water. ... That is the most effective and long-term way to solve the food problem: Cut out the grass, start growing vegetables.”
The Montclair-based Northeast Earth Coalition has provided a $500 grant for the community garden, according to Cruz, and he is also trying to get a grant from Partners for Health Foundation, which serves communities in Essex and Passaic counties.
Cronk said that he had contacted Pinnacle President Brian Stolar about the farmers’ market, and that the executive plans to help market it and sponsor part of it. The BID itself plans to mount a big promotional effort, including multiple lawn signs, to make the public aware of the new farmers’ market, according to Cronk.
BID volunteers will be handing out flyers about it at the Bay Street train station, and there will be signs for it from Bay Street to the park, he said.
An earlier version of this story misnamed one of the streets that border the park.