Partnership between Elijah’s Promise and farmers bears fruit

This article was in today’s Star-Ledger. It is an excellent example of the leadership of creative organizations like Elijah’s Promise and New Jersey farmers. The commitment to sustanability is crucial in our ever more precarious environment.

Farmers market joins soup kitchen
Case of sustainability, community building

Friday, June 15, 2007, BY NAWAL QAROONI, Star-Ledger Staff

The Highland Park farmers market has brought fresh fruits, vegetables and gourmet natural products to the surrounding community for more than a decade.

Now, organizers are taking a stab at another social mission: sustainability.

Partnering with Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick-based nonprofit soup kitchen, the market will serve wholesome vegetarian sandwiches prepared by the shelter’s catering employees, said Rita Finstein, who has been manager for eight years.

The farmers market, located in the municipal parking lot at 222 Raritan Ave., opens this year on July 6 and continues Fridays through Nov. 2.

“This is an extension of what the farmers market has been about: connecting farms and communities in ways that foster relationship building, health and responsibility for our future,” said Lisanne Finston, executive director of Elijah’s Promise. “It’s using food as a tool to build healthier communities.”

Two years ago, Finstein began donating unwanted produce to Elijah’s Promise. She began attending a community awareness group called “Farm to Table” that the nonprofit sponsors, which emphasizes the need to highlight locally grown products in season.

When she began looking for a sandwich vendor to add to the other 11 vendors at the market, Finston thought of Elijah’s Promise again.

“I think this partnership is fabulous because it’s one more step in our growth and journey as an organization to become more mindful that everything we do is connected,” Finston said. “Our catering operation is a socially minded venture that seeks to provide quality products and employment for disadvantaged folks.”

The nonprofit includes a culinary school called Promise Jobs, located on Livingston Avenue. Graduates of the school have the opportunity to work for Promise Catering, a program developed nine years ago that now employees six people, Finston said.

Students at Promise Jobs have been homeless at some point in their lives, or have gone through welfare programs. The goal is to give people employment and life skills that will eventually connect them to solid jobs, as well as teach them how to better their lives through healthy habits, Finston said.

It’s a mission Elijah’s Promise has pursued since 1989, but is a new phenomenon for the Highland Park farmers market, said Graham Copeland, executive director of Main Street Highland Park.

“The folks in New Brunswick have been doing great work in the community for years, and their social mission fits in with ours,” Copeland said. “Sustainability takes on an element of social justice, which ties in with where Highland Park has been going. It’s a neat fit.”

Randall Solomon, executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable State Institute at Rutgers University, said he has seen similar models connecting farmers markets to urban communities elsewhere in the country, but nowhere else in New Jersey.

“When people think of future impact, they think of global warming or pollution,” Solomon said. “But the part about satisfying the needs of today without compromising the needs of other generations is often ignored. This is a good example of meeting needs, not just the wants of the well-to-do.”

Nawal Qarooni may be reached at nqarooni@starledger.com or (732) 404-8082.

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