Farmers Markets: Forest Hills Edition

For my ecology, I am focusing on farmers markets in ethnic neighborhoods and examining their role in the community. Farmers markets provides various indications about the state of a community, and provides a lens into a community’s food economy. There are multiple benefits to having a farmers market within a community, including allowing farmers to gain more agency in selling their produce, patrons afforded fresher, healthier produce, and the chance to strengthen community ties and provide an outdoor venue for people to gather at. Farmers markets also provide an alternative to large grocery store chains, which is a benefit for both farmers and patrons. Ideally, a farmers market in an ethnic neighborhood would celebrate the neighborhood’s culture and work to bolster and preserve the community’s local color. However this is not always a reality, and farmers markets can have adverse effects, such as being a contributor to gentrification and selling produce at prices locals cannot afford. I kept these two possibilities in mind when I visited the Forest Hills Greenmarket this morning, as well as the understanding that it might not be clearly indicative that the farmers market represents cultural prosperity or outright gentrification, but rather somewhere in between or even both.

Forest Hills is a neighborhood in Queens with a racial breakdown of 55.7% Caucasian, 24.4% Asian, 14.1% Hispanic, 2.9% Black, 2.2% mixed race, and .6% other race (Statistical Atlas). Forest Hills Greenmarket was not my first preference for farmers markets as the breakdown indicates that it is not a neighborhood marked by high levels of ethnic diversity, but the Jamaica’s Down to Earth Farmers Market is only open Friday and Saturday and I could not make it this weekend. However, the Forest Hills Greenmarket still allowed me to find my footing within my ecology and observe a neighborhood’s interactions with their local farmers market.

One of my first observations was the size of the farmers market- it only took up two blocks and had a handful of vendors, which I am unsure is due to the weather or season, or this was the level activity the farmers market regularly hosted. This is an issue I grappled with, as I was concerned the cold would hinder the level of involvement people had with the farmers market, and I would not be able to get an accurate representation of the market’s community presence till spring. However, considering the size of the market, there were a sizable number of attendees. A saxophone’s melody filled the air, adding a surprising yet welcoming tone to the environment, as people ambled around wrapped up in coats and scarves. Stands advertise “Organic Whole Grain Bread,” “Consider Bardwell Farms” and “Certified Organic.” A Target looms in the back, its iconic red logo acting as an all seeing eye, while a New York Sports Club jarrs the horizon. As I surveyed the environment, I considered how the text came together to create a dialogue. As Fuller ruminates in his book Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture, “parts no longer exist simply as discrete bits that stay separate; they set in play a process of mutual stimulation that exceeds what they are as a set. They get busy” (Fuller). Bringing in this acknowledgement of the significance of parts, Bennett’s definition of thing-power from Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things states “‘each thing [res], as far as it can by its own power, strives [conatur] to persevere in its own being’… a power present in every body” which contributes to decoding the dialogue of the text of the farmers market. The Target brought a sense of familiarity and reassurance to myself, yet its omnipresence in the space was daunting. The signs advertising local and homegrown produce were dwarfed in comparison, even though the words beckoned attention, screaming “organic” and “fresh” to the passersby.

A mixture of young and old that reflected the demographic of Forest Hills occupied the area and weaved in and out of the lanes set up by the stands and their products. The produce shaped the landscape, dictating how the patrons would interact with the products, an example of how they as objects “have a poetics…make the world and take part in it, and at the same time, synthesize, block, to make possible other worlds” (Fuller). Each bin serves as an actant, attempting to persuade and convince and thus creating assemblages when combined with the physical layout of the farmers market as a guide for how people should consume and connect.

I struggled with reading this farmers market as an ecology within the framework of cultural well-being or disparity because that narrative does not entirely exist within Forest Hills in the first place. Next week I will be going to Jamaica to visit their farmers market, and see how it contrasts with the Forest Hills Greenmarket, using my observations and readings at Forest Hills as a lens for exploration.

 

Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Fuller, Matthew, and Roger F. Malina. Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and

Technoculture. MIT Press, 2005.

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~ by Alyssa Jiang on February 4, 2018.

4 Responses to “Farmers Markets: Forest Hills Edition”

  1. The way you describe the assemblage of non human things in the foreground and background of the site was a helpful description of how this term can be applied to observe your ecology, it helps make the information in previous readings a little more tangible! I appreciate your description of the atmosphere using other senses rather than sight, it is more engaging and whole. There are very interesting ideas that you introduce at the start (are prices accessible to locals, is there “community color”) which would be productive to enhance your descriptions of the space! I’m curious what variety of items are for sale and the pricing at this market and what sort of people are selling and interacting with these objects?

  2. I would recommend looking into the aesthetics of a farmers market, and speaking with me about a few resources from another class I have on the aesthetics of food waste. Farmers markets are interesting because they are all about up selling a similar product better. Also consider the privilege and ability to afford to shop at a farmers market over less healthy options offered at a lower cost.

  3. The way you set your environment was very helpful, and I appreciate your honesty on how maybe this Forest Hills Farmers Market didn’t really provide you with the information you needed to analyze the issues you raised originally. It’s great that you went into your observation with our class material in mind, because I think that really helped you assemble what you saw into a informational material. I think as you move towards a new market next week, you could keep your eyes out more for the human interactions and perhaps maybe even the dialogue or the body language of the people at the market!

  4. I think its good that you take into account weather as it effects the liveliness and accuracy of your depiction of this farmers market. However I don’t think weather will hinder your results, because if less people have access to the market due to cold weather that’s an important factor in the overall influence that the market has on the area!

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