September 29, 2009

Gillibrand Urges Feds to Create $900k Urban Food Center at East Harlem’s La Marqueta

East Harlem Needs One-of-a-Kind Program to Provide Fresh, Affordable Produce to New York City Families, Gillibrand Says

New York, NY - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Department of Agriculture today to approve a $900,000 grant for the creation of a one-of-a kind urban food center in the heart of East Harlem's La Marqueta that would spur business entrepreneurs and increase access to affordable, locally-grown produce for the East Harlem community. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gillibrand threw her support behind federal funding of a partnership between Cornell University Center for Food Entrepreneurship and the New York State Food Venture to bring the project to fruition.

"A new, state-of the-art urban food center would help revitalize La Marqueta - once an iconic symbol in the El Barrio/East Harlem community," Senator Gillibrand said. "With partnerships at every level and renowned professional expertise, this one-of-a-kind facility would not only empower small businesses, but also give East Harlem families critically needed access to healthy, local food. I commend local leaders and the city for their work in support of this project."

"We have here a wonderful opportunity renew the promise that is La Marqueta not only by fueling people's small business dreams, but also providing the community with a much-needed source of healthy food and produce," said Congressman Charles Rangel (D-Harlem). "This is the kind of targeted investment that helps successfully leverage government dollars and academic expertise, the kind of partnership that can be modeled not just in New York, but across the nation."

"A new facility encouraging business owners to create nutritious, tasty dishes right here in my district would help improve the neighborhood's overall health and well-being," said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem). "As a community and a City we have been working proactively to reactivate La Marqueta and provide programming that will positively impact the health and well-being of El Barrio/East Harlem's residents. I can't think of a better place than La Marqueta to launch this innovative program."

Created this year, the nation's only federal grant program to establish a Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development (HUFED) Center aims to help small local entrepreneurs develop and market healthy, locally-grown food. Under the grant proposal, the Cornell University Center for Food Entrepreneurship and the New York State Food Venture will partner with the city to provide owners on-site guidance from growing fresh produce to training food entrepreneurs to product marketing. The grant winner will be announced in the coming weeks.

Once a colorful, bustling market with hundreds of vendors, the historic ethnic marketplace under the train tracks along Park Avenue near East 116th Street is now mostly shuttered, with less than a handful of stores. Dubbed as one of the "food desert" neighborhoods and having one of the nation's highest rates of obesity and diabetes, the East Harlem community lacks direct access to healthy, nutritious food.

The City Council recently unveiled a $1 million plan to draw business entrepreneurs to East Harlem by providing low-cost space and a commercial kitchen facility in La Marqueta.