The Bay Ridge Greenmarket officially launched its eighth season on Saturday, allowing the neighborhood’s faithful locavores to emerge from the overcrowded aisles of the Park Slope Food Co-op and into a setting that is the epitome of local food: the Walgreens parking lot on the corner of Third Avenue and 95th Street. Have you ever walked through that lot, maybe passed a parked Lexus on the way to your hand-pressed cider, and wondered: why this spot? I mean, here we are, in a neighborhood that’s certainly not lacking in parks or greenspace. Why are we huddled on asphalt?
Because this market is essentially the product of a protest. It is a living landmark of Bay Ridge political activism.
In 2008, what is now Walgreens was a grocery store—a Key Food, to be exact—which was closing. At the time, there was no other grocery store in the immediate vicinity (read: five blocks). So when local residents got word that the lot was being sold to Walgreens, they took to the streets and collected 1,400 signatures in protest. That’s right, folks—1,400 signatures. From Bay Ridgers. That is almost a third of the number of Brooklynites who voted for Gentile in this district last week.
People were angry, and certainly not shy about it. For Godsakes, they were about to live in a food desert, right?! Well…not exactly. “The lines at Food Town [on 90th Street] will be really long!” a resident exclaimed to the Brooklyn Paper in 2008.
Outrage, I tell you.
So after weeks of furious picketing, Councilmember Gentile came up with a great idea: screw the grocery store; let’s turn this into a market! After some serious advocacy by the councilmember’s office, Walgreens eventually bought into the idea, though it needed to travel all the way to corporate headquarters in Chicago before it was finalized. The market opened in the summer of 2008, to relatively placated residents. After seeing success in that first year, it continued again in 2009, and has been going ever since.
“I call it the town square,” Gentile said, stationed at his regular table on Saturday. “It’s a community-minded thing, and I’ve seen it grow.” And it’s true—the market is now a place to grab your fresh flowers and mingle with other folks who know the difference between turnips and Jerusalem artichokes. You can even meet your councilmember, who started the damn thing! Is this some real democracy or what?
The market is admittedly modest. It featured about seven vendors on Saturday, though the organizers tell me it will expand as we get deeper into the season. But even now you can get virtually anything you need for a midspring’s fridge stock-up: delicious bread, fresh produce, cow- and goat-milk dairy products, fresh seafood, and plenty more goodies. This year there is onsite textile recycling and composting, too. Though the market has been growing each year, Councilman Gentile mentioned that there is room for the market to expand if the demand were there, and if more farmers are willing to participate. Looks like it’s time to bust out those dusty picketing signs, O brave activists!
Moral of the story: shop at the Bay Ridge Greenmarket. Not even because you’ll probably be reducing your carbon footprint, or because you’ll be supporting local farms, or because nobody meets their next hot date in the freezer section. Shop at the market because you’ll be supporting a good old-fashioned protest that actually changed a corner of this community. Hell, maybe if we all eat enough greens from the greenmarket, we’ll get our moxie back and take to the streets next time, let’s say, our congressman commits massive tax fraud?
Whatever. It’s good for you. Enjoy!
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