Monica Tomlinson Francois, 66, a Bronx native, is a regular at the Morris Heights Farmstand at the northeast corner of University Avenue and Burnside Avenue. She visits the market every Wednesday with her daughter to purchase fresh produce. Broccoli, beets and cauliflower are their favorites.
On Wednesday, October 12, Tomlinson Francois’ visit to the market coincided with a community health event to promote the Bronx as a healthy destination and to celebrate the news that the weekly market will remain open year-round, instead of closing in mid-November.
“That’s really good to hear, really good news for those of us who like fresh vegetables to eat,” she said. “I live a few blocks from here and my weekly trip to the local market helps me eat a variety of healthy food.”
The Farmstand, which which is operated by GrowNYC near the Morris Heights Health Center on Burnside Avenue, with support from the American Heart Association, Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson and NYC Councilmember Pierina Ana Sanchez, is part of a collaboration aimed at increasing access to affordable, healthy food in the Bronx.
Rose Caiola, a Bronx-born entrepreneur and American Heart Association NYC Board member, whose generous donation helped create the food access program in Morris Heights, originating with a food box program that ran for two years, and funds a sister farmstand in the Norwood neighborhood, was onsite to for this special event.
“I’m so proud to be here in the Bronx at our second farmstand,” said Caiola, who is the founder of Rewire Me and Principal Member of Bettina Equities Management. “I’m thrilled beyond words that we’re able to bring healthy, affordable food to this amazing community.”
“It should not matter where you live; every individual deserves access to healthy food,” Caiola said. “Being able to find affordable, healthy food is an essential human right.”
The Morris Heights Farmstand, which will remain open every Wednesday from 11am to 3pm, accepts many nutrition benefits including SNAP, WIC, Health Bucks, FMNP Checks, FreshConnect Coupons, Greenmarket Bucks, and Health First OTC thanks to GrowNYC’s city-wide efforts to make fresh food more affordable and available to NYC residents.
Since 2021, GrowNYC has distributed approximately 400,000 pounds of produce in communities throughout New York City. Of the food distributed, 55 percent was secured using nutrition benefits.
“Having the farmstand here in Morris Heights, in the Bronx, means increasing access for the community, and helping local farmers throughout the region so they can be economically supported and preserve farm land,” said Angela Davis, Director of Food Access & Agriculture, GrowNYC. “We’re really happy to be working with all the various partners in the Bronx to make this borough a healthy place to live, eat, work and play.”
Mari G. Millet, President & CEO of Morris Heights Health Center, discussed the importance of the community coming together with a shared goal of increased health access.
“It’s all about access to healthy lifestyles and access to healthy eating,” Millet said, “We talk about how important it is to get people healthy, but where do they go? We are happy to say they can come to this farmstand and to Morris Heights, where we make everything available to them to create better lives.”
Millet talked about the power of partnership in the effort to remove the Bronx from the bottom of the list when it comes to health outcomes in New York State, and how working together with community leaders and nonprofit organizations like the American Heart Association makes it possible to deliver to the many communities in the Bronx that need need our help.
“We all have the same vision and mission, and that is to improve the lifestyles and health of our communities,” Millet said. “The Bronx has been tagged as the sickest borough in New York State, 62 out of 62. No More! Not 62 is the mission and vision for what we’re doing with our partners to create an atmosphere for our community to be healthy.”
The community health event on October 12 was sponsored by the American Heart Association and featured public exercise classes to help introduce residents to several local health programs, including Zumba and yoga led by YMCA LaCentral instructors, along with cooking lessons, nutrition informational sessions, and, of course, a wide variety of fresh, locally sourced fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods coordinated by GrowNYC.
In attendance were various local elected officials, including New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, State Assemblymember Yudelka Tapia and Dr. Bola Omotosho from Bronx Community Board 5.
“It’s incredible to see so many organizations and individuals committed to make lasting change here in the Bronx,” said Meg Gilmartin, Executive Director, Senior Vice President, American Heart Association, New York City. “We at the American Heart Association are privileged to have the support of donors like Rose Caiola, who have ties to this community. It is our honor to be able to take their desire to make an impact, focus their commitment and see that come to life here in Morris Heights, and in Norwood. This is a great success for all of us!”