LaGuardia CC cooks present their dishes to the masses

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Gilmar Avila, a 6-year-old from Ozone Park darted through the pouring rain at the Jamaica Farmers’ Market last week to stand in line for the raw beet and apple salad about which he could not stop raving.

“It is scrumptious,” Avila exclaimed, as he held out his hands for another free salad being prepared by a community educator for the Cornell University Cooperative, which holds weekly cooking demonstrations at the market on 160th Street in Jamaica.

Avila and his mother, Ana Rodriguez, also of Ozone Park, are regular customers at the farmers market, which for more than a decade has provided healthy, local and often organic food from New York farms to many low-income residents. This year LaGuardia Community College dietetic students are back at the market after a year-long hiatus due to a lack of federal funding. The students are working with the Cornell University Cooperative’s Extension’s Farmers Market Nutrition Education Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s great because you can promote local farmers and provide nutrition, and things like recipes, to people,” said Jamaica resident Mei Yan, a second-year nutrition student at LaGuardia Community College.

Yan is one of 14 LaGuardia students working this summer at farmers markets in Jamaica on Fridays, on 14th Street in Astoria on Wednesdays and on 80th Street in Elmhurst on Tuesdays. The markets offer a wide variety of produce, from red Russian kale to strawberries, and conduct food demonstrations and nutrition workshops for populations often inundated with fast food restaurants and little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“These markets are in neighborhoods that are food deserts,” said Bette Cohen, director of LaGuardia’s Dietetic Technician program. “We’re addressing communities not having access to fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll see a correlation between a lack of access to fresh produce or large supermarkets and obesity, diabetes and hypertensi­on.”

During Friday’s market in Jamaica, there was a steady stream of customers despite bursts of hard rain. People like Rodriguez and Jamaica resident Sorel Lafaurie said they come for the fresh produce available at good rates. Farmers reduce their prices at the market in Jamaica in order for residents, who are often purchasing the fruits and vegetables with money from the federal Women, Infant and Children program, to afford the goods.

“It’s a resource for people who don’t have a lot of resources,” said Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, the manager at the Jamaica Farmers’ Market. “People come here because they’re very concerned about the health of their families and getting good quality food.”

Pasang Dhondup, an employee with the Migliorelli Farm in upstate Dutchess County, said it will offer six cobs of corn for $2 — less than the approximate four cobs for $2 that it sells at places like the Union Square farmer’s market in Manhattan.

“The fruits and vegetables we get here are more fresh than what you can get at other places around here,” Lafaurie said.

Grace Geronimo, another second-year nutrition student at LaGuardia, said the students have been thrilled to participate in the farmers’ markets.

“I love so much what I’m doing,” said Geronimo, of Astoria. “I’m helping people and in return they’re helping me.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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