July 23, 2019 | 67° F

Rutgers students volunteer at New Brunswick food co-op

Photo by Faith Hoatson |

A cooperative effort between Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension has lead to a farmer’s market which provides low-cost foods to residents using food vouchers for assistance.

Many students' top expense is food, but a New Brunswick-based co-op helps provide low-cost food to Hub City residents.

The market opened in 2009 and is a partnership between Johnson & Johnson, the City of New Brunswick and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, which is part the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The market was established to fulfill the community's need for fresh local produce to be more available and affordable, said Lauren Errickson, senior program coordinator of the New Brunswick Community Farmer’s Market. Errickson is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Nutritional Sciences program.

The market runs three days a week at different locations, and each market has unique offerings.

On Wednesday, the market is in Kilmer Square Park, on Thursday, the market is on Cook Campus and on Saturday, the market runs from the flagship site on Jones Avenue. 

“By bringing the market into strategic locations within the city, we’re able to bring the food to the people,” Errickson said.

Checks, vouchers and benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and senior’s farmer's market nutrition program vouchers are all accepted at the store, Errickson said. 

The first step in making the food more affordable was being able to accept these food stamps, Errickson said.

“I think what our market has really been able to do well is to help people afford fresh and local food," Errickson said. 

The farmer’s market also has a program called “market bucks.” They are an internal voucher for any New Brunswick Community Farmer’s Market, allowing people to spend money on fresh, local and healthy choices.

When someone shops with federal food assistance benefits, half of what they spent is given back as market bucks. A woman who spends a $10 WIC check will receive $5 back in market bucks. Market bucks are redeemable at any of the New Brunswick Farmer’s Markets.

About $20,000 of benefits between SNAP, WIC and Senior Vouchers were used. The farmer’s market is able to give back half of this figure, offering $10,000 in market bucks to the local community, Errickson said.

Amanda Bialeck, farmer’s market assistant and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences alumna, also helps set up the farmer’s market, from organizing the vendors to fielding questions.

The market bucks really help people structure their budgets, Bialeck said. Many people use the system.

The vouchers are only redeemable for fresh produce, so it promotes healthy eating even further.

There are several resources showing people how to shop for food on a healthy budget, said School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior John Hung. These include the SNAP website.

The market also has an educational component, which is facilitated by student interns from Rutgers University, said Hung, who is a SNAP intern. 

The market aims to be very family-friendly, as there is a children’s garden where children can play while their parents shop, he said. The children are also able to feed the seven laying hens that live near the farmer’s market, as well as try some of the produce in the market and from the garden.

Stephanie Wakefield, a School of Engineering senior, runs the children’s education table.

Each week there is a different lesson, with short activities to accompany it. The children can also go to the garden to pick cherry tomatoes, she said.

The market has several students who create education programs. The lessons are designed to be quick, in a two-to-five-minute format, she said. There are lessons for children and adults, with topics varying from how to choose healthy meals to how to exercise more.

Taylor Modafferi and Brittany Saffold, two School of Environmental and Biological Sciences seniors, work on lesson plans and games for children at the weekly market.

Nurgül Fitzgerald, from the Department of Nutritional Sciences, guides these two students as they design curriculums.

One lesson, “Fight Bac!” was a four-week series that explained appropriate food temperatures to cook food, store leftovers and thaw food.

Another lesson, “Adding Up” showed community members how to integrate more fruits and vegetables into their diet.

This kind of education is really important because it is practical, Saffold said. It also aids in promoting health and advocating nutrition. 

The farmer’s market also has a demonstration garden and a community garden. Members of the community can rent a plot and grow whatever vegetables they choose. This brings people to the site on a more regular basis.

“It’s also a nice bridge between Rutgers and the local community,” Errickson said. 

People visiting the market weekly allows community members to meet their neighbors and live in a more healthy and friendly community. 

The market also offers more than just produce. The market offers baked goods, local eggs, herbal products, tinctures and jewelry.

Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.

Faith Hoatson

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