Farmers’ market, community garden slated for Crane Park
By LINDA MOSS firstname.lastname@example.org A farmers' market and community garden are coming to Crane Park, initiatives that may help address the Fourth Ward's status as a so-called "food desert." The Montclair Center Business Improvement District, or BID, has permits to debut the Crane Park Market at the triangular parcel of land, which is at the corner of Lackawanna Plaza and Glenridge Avenue, starting on Sunday, July 16, the group's executive director, Israel Cronk, said Thursday. From then on the market will be open on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. It will continue until September or October, he said. The BID has nearly all the approvals from the township that it needs for the farmers' market and community garden, pending a check-off by the Health Department, according to Cronk. The arrangements were nailed down recently, with the help of municipal officials, he said. "We just brought everything together in the last week and a half," Cronk said. "The township has been so supportive." 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. 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 Saturday and Sunday Cruz is hosting a community clean-up at the park, starting at 10 a.m., for volunteers to get rid of weeds and trash and prepare the site for planting. BID workers actually started cleaning up brush and weeds at part of the park on Thursday, according to Cronk. 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. Crane Park, township land, is big enough to host such a market and has other advantages, according to Cronk. "It was ideal," he said. "We don't have to close down a street. We don't have to hire police officers." 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, according to Cronk. "It was just a perfect storm," he said. 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. All the logistics and details haven't been worked out yet, but 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. He said that he hopes to start planting the weekend of July 15-16. "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. "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 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.