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Farmers Market Coming to Echo Park

June 5, 2009

Echo Park will be a little greener than usual this summer. 

Harvest Home Farmers Market (HHFM) is opening up shop in the park’s southwest corner along East Tremont Avenue. Three vendors will sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and baked goods every Wednesday from July 8 through Nov. 18, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Echo Park was selected because of its ability to accommodate large trucks transporting produce and to bring positive activity to the park, said Annie Moss, a community health organizer for Montefiore Medical Center, who’s been helping HHFM get the market up and running.

HHFM partners with farmers from upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to provide both an outlet for growers and fresh produce to underserved communities. It has been in existence since 1993, when the first market opened in Harlem. Since then, the organization has expanded into Brooklyn and the Bronx. 

“The work of HHFM has increased residents’ access to high quality, locally grown fresh produce,” said founder Maritza Owens, particularly in “communities that are systematically overlooked, underserved and have the greatest need for these products.”

Echo Park's farmers market

The Echo Park market is seen as direct replacement for another local initiative, the United Tremont Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which is being discontinued. The CSA, a collaboration between the Montefiore School Health Program at PS 28, Just Food, and City Harvest, allowed community members to purchase a share of a farmer’s crop, which they picked up weekly from PS 28 on Anthony Avenue.

The CSA also offered free cooking classes. These will continue for now but end in the fall when a City Harvest grant runs out. According to Moss, any subsequent cooking classes will depend on Montefiore School Health Program or HHFM’s ability to provide them, or volunteers.

Low-income residents will be able to save money at the farmers market by applying for coupons from programs such as the Women, Infants, Children’s (WIC) Program and the New York State Farmers Market Nutrition Program. WIC, for example, offers a $2 coupon for every $5 spent at the market.  Food stamps are also accepted.

Lucille Rivers, 65, a former CSA member says she’s looking forward to the market because she will be able to choose the quantity and type of produce she wants. With the CSA this wasn’t always possible.

“It’ll be good for the community,” Rivers said. “Especially for our young folks. You hardly see any fresh fruit bodegas in the Bronx. [People open] a hamburger, fried food place faster than a fresh fruit place.”

Sallie Smith, a longtime Valentine Avenue resident, didn’t know about the new market, but was excited when told. “I’m from the South,” she said. “So I love fresh vegetables because I like to grill them.”

In previous years, Smith purchased produce at the farmers market in Union Square and last year she went to one in Poe Park, located on the Grand Concourse at Kingsbridge Road. To have one closer to home this summer will be big plus, she said.

By REBECCA CHAO

Editor’s Note: For more information about the Echo Park farmers market, or to find out how to obtain the aforementioned coupons, call Annie Moss at (718) 901-2849.

4-Train Express Debuts

June 5, 2009

4-Train

Bronx commuters along the 4-train line looking to shorten their morning commute will be pleased with the announcement of a new pilot program set to begin on June 8. The Express 4 Service will operate for an hour each weekday morning rush.

The program, to run until June 26, will consist of four express trains that will serve commuters between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., Monday through Friday. They will depart from the Woodlawn station at 7:15 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 7:45 a.m., and 8 a.m. After Mosholu Parkway, the train will then stop at Burnside Avenue and then at 149th Street, after which it will return to making all regular stops.

The MTA claims the program will shave almost four minutes off the approximated 21-minute commute from Woodlawn to 149th Street.

Commuters will be alerted to the service by conductor announcements and ads in the stations. Local trains will still service stations bypassed by the Express Service.

By ANDREW BORYGA

New Play Equipment for Cedar Playground

June 5, 2009

Cedar Playground

Community leaders, residents, and Parks Department staff, gathered May 20 to announce the installation of “Play Proud” equipment in Cedar Playground, at Cedar Avenue and West 179th Street.

The “Play Proud” piece was donated by Tiki Recreation, an organization started by former NFL Giants star, Tiki Barber, which makes creatively shaped play equipment to give kids a fitness-boosting workout. Studies have shown that kids burn up to 30 percent more calories playing on Tiki Recreation plyagrounds, as opposed to traditional structures.

Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who attended the gathering, said the new equipment, which is made out of recycled materials, would go a long way toward improving the physical well-being of many Morris Heights children. He said he looked forward to overcoming a time when moms and dads were fearful to send their kids to the playground.

“It wasn’t a fulfilling park,” said Joan Burr, a local resident, adding that she would often pass up the playground for another location with a nicer crowd. “The older kids used to come down here [to Cedar Playground] and smoke [marijuana]. They had no respect for the younger kids.” 

Joan Burr hopes Cedar Playground’s new addition will add a kid-friendly vibe- and encourage teenagers to find a new afterschool hangout. 

In the future, if the funds are there, Diaz said he plans to allocate additional monies to ensure a more complete renovation of the playground.

By  ARIEL ELGHANAYAN

Morris Heights Health Center Receives Funds for Renovations

June 5, 2009

Morris Heights Health Center (MHHC) has been awarded $280,000 in grant funds as part of the Community Health Centers (CHC) Capital Program.

MHHC is one of 14 primary care providers in the state that received funds, which it will use to build six new dental rooms and expand the first floor of its Dental and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) services facility at 85 West Burnside Ave.

The CHC Capital Program is directed by the Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC), a non-profit that provides capital improvement programs to primary care facilities in underserved neighborhoods, in partnership with the New York State Department of Health and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York.

“This partnership with PCDC will assist MHHC in our ability to further promote access to quality affordable healthcare to all,” said Verona Greenland, president and ceo of Morris Heights Health Center, in a press release.

By REBECCA CHAO

Ex-Senator Gonzalez Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges

June 5, 2009

Former State Senator Efrain Gonzalez pleaded guilty on May 8 to defrauding three Bronx nonprofit groups and using hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds for his own personal use.

In total, Gonzalez, 60, pleaded guilty to four federal fraud charges – two charges of mail fraud and two charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In response, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped five additional charges for fraud, money laundering and abuse of office.

The mail fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years and the two conspiracy charges come with a maximum of eight years. Gonzalez is scheduled to be sentenced in Manhattan federal court on Aug. 7.

The guilty plea culminates a federal investigation that began five years ago. In the fall of 2006 Gonzalez was indicted on fraud charges, but still easily won re-election to his senate seat, which he had held since 1989.

GonzalezIn December 2006, prosecutors filed additional charges and outlined a broad conspiracy ensnaring three other people – former Gonzalez staffer Miguel Castanos, his former secretary Lucia Sanchez and Pathways for Youth Executive Director Neil Berger.

Berger and Castanos pleaded guilty to lesser charges last month. Sanchez pleaded guilty on Monday.

Gonzalez’s trial was originally supposed to begin last May. It was then was postponed until November, then again until Monday, May 11. He pleaded guilty in federal court on May 9.

According to the indictment and statements made at the guilty plea proceedings, Gonzalez admitted to concocting a scheme to funnel state grant money through Pathways for Youth, an established Bronx nonprofit group that received millions of dollars annually in city funding, into two nonprofit groups that he had a hand in creating – United Latin American Federation and the West Bronx Neighborhood Association.

Gonzalez’s district office in Tremont was connected to the offices of the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, which was littered with the former senator’s memorabilia, including a portrait of himself and framed labels for his own personal brand of cigars.

In pleading guilty, Gonzalez admitted that the West Bronx Neighborhood Association did not do any substantial not-for-profit work and that he directed the organization to pay for a long list of personal expenses, including Yankee tickets, jewelry, college tuition for his daughter, membership fees in a vacation club, rent on an apartment in the Dominican Republic and fees related to his own personal cigar company.

Last fall, Gonzalez lost his re-election bid to Pedro Espada, Jr., who is making headlines of his own for abusing the campaign finance system, allegedly not living the district, failing to promptly set up a district office and threatening to vote with Republicans on a number of issues.   

By ALEX KRATZ

Editor’s note:  A version of this article first appeared in the Norwood News.    
 

CAB Raises $$ at Annual Event

June 5, 2009

More than 150 people, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, attended the Citizens Advice Bureau’s (CAB) annual event on May 14, which raised $135,000, easily beating their previous record of $106,000 in 2007.

“Our board and our supporters realize… that CAB needs additional resources to meet increased demand stemming from the economic downturn. They have responded accordingly,” said Ken Small, CAB’s Development Director, in a press release.

At the time of CAB’s founding in 1972, the Bronx was sliding into a downward spiral of decay. CAB went on to become a frontline organization in helping people with their basic needs and advocating for social, economic, and educational resources for low-income individuals, families, and communities in the Bronx. CAB helped 35,000 Bronx residents in 2008, such as placing low-income adults in jobs, assisting children and youth with college guidance services, helping families avoid entry into the shelter system, and supporting the growing immigrant population.

CAB, which has offices on Burnside Avenue, recognized two Bronx residents at the annual event for their contributions to the community: Dr. Dolores M. Fernandez, President of Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College, and Joseph Byrne, the Project Executive at Turner Construction Company, who oversaw the building of the new Yankee Stadium. Both honorees received original artwork created by Bronx-based artists affiliated with the Artisans Project of the Bronx Council on the Arts.

By REBECCA CHAO

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