Healthy demand for fresh produce grows in St. Albans

A study by the Pratt Center for Community Development says empty restaurants along Farmers Boulevard, like Munchy's, could be used to lure an existing healthy eatery to open shop in St. Albans. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Long after St. Albans’ farms were developed into the homes of the neighborhood’s legendary jazz greats, the demand for fresh food still exists.

The supply, though, is a different story.

“A lot of senior citizens have been growing vegetables in their backyards for decades. It’s still very much a part of the culture,” said Isa Abdur-Rahman, executive director of the Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp.

“Now juxtapose that with a lot of the fast-food services that proliferate urban streets: fast Chinese, fast pizza — all of which nobody hates,” he said. “We’re trying to revive some of the culture of fresher food and fresher produce in order to promote health and wellness.”

A 2010 study by the Pratt Center for Community Development found that while the majority of area residents and customers eat out at sit-down restaurants, they prefer to travel away from Farmers Boulevard to places like the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, L.I., to do so. The report concluded that St. Albans residents have a “growing health conscious sentiment,” and that several shuttered restaurants provided the type of existing infrastructure that could be used to lure potential businesses.

Abdur-Rahman said he has been developing initiatives over the past few years to build on that capital to either lure a healthy restaurant to the boulevard or develop one from within the community.

“The challenge is that a lot of restaurants that have a vision for expanding desire either more densely populated areas than you find in southeast Queens, or they look for bigger footprints with land for parking,” he said.

“It’s tough to go compete with Manhattan and Brooklyn and Nassau,” he added. “If what’s needed is for us to build it from within, then that’s what we’ll do.”

In its efforts to plant those seeds from within, the organization is planning to hold its annual health and wellness fair Sept. 15 at the intersection of Farmers and Murdock boulevards.

On top of that, over the next month or so it will be launching the Earth Tones & Side Dishes program, a nod to the neighborhood’s rich agricultural and jazz histories. The program will provide free catering and live music to a select few civic groups in the St. Albans-Jamaica area.

The catered presentations will feature grilled salmon, lamb and jerk chicken, as well as healthy side dishes such as three-bean salad, rice dishes, steamed pumpkin, steamed plantains and stewed black peas.

“The focal point will be the side dishes. We want to show you can fill your plate with things that are not fried, that are not even meat for that matter,” Abdur-Rahman said. “Attracting such a restaurant to our area is the ultimate goal, but the most important work is to continue advocating for healthier lifestyles in our community.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:00 am, April 26, 2012
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