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MARKET SEES EMPTY LOTS AS GROWING PLOTS

Those empty city lots -- spreading in number as demolitions increase -- may soon be going to seed.

Broadway Market leaders are exploring the idea of growing vegetables in vacant city lots for the market.

The hope is to create small growing areas on the lots, producing start-up businesses in old neighborhoods, said Mark Kubiniec, facilities manager for the Broadway Market.

"There is some thought that we will be able to take some of those vacant lots and work with the Polish Community Center and have nursery stock or trees grown on those lots brought to market," Kubiniec said.

Some gardens might also appear on the grounds of the old New York Central terminal, a building acquired by a neighborhood group hoping for its redevelopment.

The immediate focus will be greater varieties of fresh food at reasonable prices for the people who live in the city, and suburban residents who make weekly trips to 999 Broadway, he said.

Earlier this year, Market Chief Executive Rodney Hensel and County Legislator Gregory B. Olma, D-Buffalo, traveled to a public markets convention in Seattle for ideas. Olma, chairman of the Legislature Energy and Environment Committee, sponsored the $50,000 agricultural grant for the market.

On the trip to the West, Hensel said, he saw vegetables he didn't know existed and learned about producers growing for niche markets. The niches range from restaurant chefs who want special herbs for their creations to ethnic communities with old country cravings.

With part of the $50,000, the market will hire a coordinator to explore what local producers would like to sell retail at the market and niche areas for growing or buying.

"We're really talking small," said Hensel. "Selling wholesale isn't in the works. A grower can increase profits 80 percent with direct sales."

If chefs want an exotic herb, maybe the coordinator will know someone willing to grow it.

The farmers market held during the growing season has shrunk as farmers grew older or died, Hensel said. He predicts evolution, with an expanded variety of foods, including hydroponics and organically raised produce. Some interested producers are already knocking at the doors.

Long-range strategy calls for a complete farmers market revamping, possibly with a new location or locations, said Hensel.

Besides the $50,000 for agricultural promotion at the market, Olma's district is line for a $40,000 appropriation for the Polish Community Center, based at 1083 Broadway. The center is managed by Olma's wife, Annette Junciewicz. Olma says the grant to the center helps fund other district projects.

Kubiniec visualizes a partnership between the Market and the Polish Community Center to select varieties of produce and open up gardens.

The range of goods available in the community is limited, Kubiniec said. For instance, he said, it's not easy to buy Christmas trees.

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