Growing up on a small family farm in Hunterdon County, Chelsa Hernandez has always had a feel for agriculture. So it was no surprise when she left her busy career in retail several years ago to devote herself to growing and selling locally grown food.
She first managed urban lots and educational gardens for City Green Urban Farm, where she learned from networks of local producers. Last spring, Hernandez committed full time to farming with Coeur et Sol, an urban farm she founded in East Orange comprised of community farmers.
Hernandez has been selling the food – which is grown not only in her East Orange plot, but by a community of farmers throughout Northern and Central New Jersey that she has brought together – on the Green Grocer Food Hub, as well as at farmer’s markets and local restaurants and through a 14-member CSA.
Now, she will be opening a brick-and-mortar market in the Watsessing Heights neighborhood of Bloomfield, featuring locally grown produce, dairy, eggs, honey, juice and other items, from local New Jersey vendors.
“I want to use the location and market share to help other farmers who are doing the same thing, but who haven’t had access to a viable marketplace,” she tells Baristanet. “I can utilize the market to build an economy that will support them and help mitigate climate change and health issues as well as fairer access.”
The store will be open in September (exact date TBD) and will be located at 27 Carteret Street, next to new coffee shop 23 Skidoo. You can view some of the work in progress on Coeur et Sol’s Instagram page.
Hernandez says the storefront is “kind of me coming full circle in my career.”
“I knew I enjoyed [my retail career] to an extent, but it just didn’t feel right,” she says. “I was sacrificing myself to my true identity. I’ve always been more outdoorsy and marched to the beat of my own drum. I am rooted in working with plants.”
With her efforts focused on the new store – and her first baby due in December – she will not be using her East Orange plot next season. “I will go back when the timing is right,” she says.