We caught up with Carey King, Project Director at New Harlem East Merchants Association, to learn more about NHEMA’s mission, core programs and food-related initiatives:
The mission of the New Harlem East Merchants Association (NHEMA) is to enrich the quality of life on the east side of 125th Street by engaging in creative initiatives to improve the vitality of the area. We got our start in 2013, when a small group of mom-and-pop shops in the area banded together with brooms in hand to sweep the sidewalks and plant flowers and street trees. As more merchants and community members have joined in, we have been able to secure funds to hire homeless individuals from the Association of Community Employment (ACE) to do street cleaning on daily basis, and have also taken on a wide array of projects, ranging from street festivals to holiday lights to — now, in 2015 — launching the “Uptown Grand Central” community plaza at 125th Street & Park Avenue, underneath the Metro-North viaduct.
Tell us about the food-related work you do and services you provide.
Since our start, NHEMA has been an organization that has placed a high priority on the health of our neighborhood. Among our members we count Wild Olive Market, Island Salad, Q&N Natural Food, and Urban Garden Center – all businesses that keep the health of East Harlem at heart. To further this work, starting in 2014, we launched a produce market underneath the Metro-North viaduct, and in 2015, with the creation of the Uptown Grand Central community plaza, we have expanded to a fresh produce program in partnership with GrowNYC that makes bags of fresh, local fruits and vegetables available to all community members at wholesale prices. Stop by the plaza any Wednesday afternoon and you’ll get a taste of a fresh recipe by a Harlem chef, earn Health Bucks from the Health Department, and discover all sorts of new vegetables. Ever tasted a purple carrot or golden beet?!
Tell us about a recent success you’ve had with your food-related work.
The creation of the Uptown Grand Central plaza is an important demonstration of the role of food in “place making” – i.e., the design and management of public spaces to enhance residents’ health and well-being. For decades now, the space under the 125th Street viaduct has earned a reputation for crime and drug use. By transforming the area with a bright new mural, a rainbow of colorful tables and chairs, and health-centered programming including free Zumba classes and the produce bags, the neighborhood’s expectations for that street corner are beginning to change. Food is unique in that it can bring everyone together — and on Wednesdays at the plaza, it is doing just that.
Tell us about a recent challenge you have encountered in your food-related work.
If you have been keeping up with the news, you’ll know that the stretch of 125th Street between Park and Lexington avenues has been getting a lot of attention for our high numbers of street homeless and also a new drug called K2 (synthetic marijuana). These challenges – due to policy decisions including the large number of drug treatment programs in the area, the routing of the M35 bus from shelters on Randalls and Wards Island, and the inability of the city to provide appropriate homeless services – make this an area of high need. We are committed, however, to working with all community members to make our neighborhood a place for people of all backgrounds and income levels.
Any exciting new events or projects?
Yes! Are you ready for the Big Apple Crunch?! On Wednesday, October 21, a number of East Harlem schools and food programs will be gathering at the Uptown Grand Central plaza to celebrate Food Day and all the good food work that so many amazing East Harlem organizations are doing. There will be activities for kids, and of course, the chance to munch an apple or two! If you would like to participate, please contact Carey King at [email protected].
Main Office Address:
2082 Lexington Avenue, #201, New York, NY 10035, between 125th and 126th streets
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Nhema125th / www.facebook.com/uptowngrandcentral
How Many Full-Time Staff: Four part-time staff
How Many Volunteers: Several hundred join us for activities such as flower-planting and to help with plaza programming.
Areas you serve: We are focused on the blocks that surround the 125th Street corridor from Fifth to Second avenues – but anyone who wants to join is welcome!
Founding Date: 2013
Founded by: Nina DeMartini-Day & Princess Jenkins