New York area farmers are returning to the World Trade Center site to sell produce to local people for the first time since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. City officials say the return of the farmers' market is another sign of economic recovery for lower Manhattan, but the farmers say business is slower than ever.
The last time farmer Mindy Walsh was at the World Trade Center, it was a sunny autumn morning and she was running a brisk business at her fruit and vegetable stand. Then, she heard the loud roar of a plane engine. She was so close she could feel the heat of the explosion. She hid under her pickup truck to avoid falling debris, and later, ran away to escape the impending collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.
"It's just weird. It doesn't look anything like I remember. Nothing," she remarks.
For years before the terror attacks, she and 14 other Greenmarket farmers sold fresh berries, leafy basil and an array of just-picked fruits and vegetables here. It was one of the busiest farmers' markets in all of New York City. Mostly, their customers were people who worked at the World Trade Center.
"I've seen a few of my customers on the missing pages, so now that I'm here right now, I'm just hoping and praying they show up," she adds.
City officials are calling the return of the farmers another step forward in the economic revitalization of lower Manhattan.
According to the New York State Department of Labor, New York City lost more than 130,000 jobs in 2001, the year of the World Trade Center attacks. The government has since spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make up for the huge losses in revenue that the city has suffered.
But construction on the new World Trade Center won't be complete for several more years and it could be a long time before lower Manhattan sees an influx of office workers to match the estimated 50,000 people who used to work in the twin towers.
So far, only four of the original 15 farmers have returned. One of them, Bertha Palaguach says business is not the same as it once was.
"Slow. Before, [for] like five or six years it was busy, but right now, slow," she notes.
But for those who still work in lower Manhattan, the farmers' market is a small symbol of recovery. Daniel Smith, whose office is across the street at the World Financial Center, browses through the fresh apples and potatoes, filling his shopping bags.
"This is just great," he says. "This is one of the things that I've missed. We had such a great community down here and it was all wiped away in that one day. It's just so nice to see everything coming back, bit by bit."
The farmers will sell fresh produce from their stands one day each week, and city officials say they will decide soon whether they can increase it to two.