Communities Create in the Now

by Demetris Giovanni Edwards

Not only is Greenmarket celebrating a milestone birthday this summer but so is our Youthmarket program. Modeled after Greenmarket, Youthmarket is a unique solution to food access in New York City; GrowNYC purchases produce from local farmers and trains young people to operate a farm stand in their neighborhood as their own small business. In 2006, a young kid from Bedford-Stuyvesant wanted to see his community come together over healthy food but there was very little to be found. He and a friend from the neighborhood partnered up with us and helped to create the first Youthmarket. He went on to oversee and expand GrowNYC’s network of Youthmarkets for over five years. Today you can find 14 Youthmarkets throughout the City and last year neighborhood youth sold 274,000 pounds of healthy produce to communities who otherwise wouldn’t have access to farm-fresh produce.

It was a crisp Saturday morning. I’ll never forget meeting at the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket with Tom Strumolo, then the director of Greenmarket. It was so early, the sun scarcely grazed the buildings and the farmers were still setting up for business. My friend, Shane Jiles-Joseph, and I met with Tom and Lloyd Porter, a local entrepreneur from our neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

We planned to create a market run by the youth from the neighborhood for the neighborhood. It was a way for our community to create growth by becoming a part of the growth. For the community to run the market would allow fluidity and adaptability unlike any Farmers market. We created a home grown solution to the problem of absent and declining food access. We were attempting to buy produce at wholesale from the local farmers’ market in Cadman Plaza, and sell it at retail in our neighborhood.

We first met with an old man, about 70 years of age, slightly hunched setting up vegetables under a Rexcroft Farms banner. He seemed unperturbed by age and mobility and quite collected in his actions. His name was Ted King. He was a tough old man, moving crate after crate of onions and peppers and carrots. I remember his calming grin as he and Tom exchanged news of the harvest. It was not a perfect harvest season, but he didn’t seem to let it dampen his mood. He was eager to help us with our project and agreed to wholesale us some of the vegetables he brought to the market. Now we had our vegetables.

Next we met with a burly fella surrounded by mounds and mounds of apples. His name was Fred Wilklow, a sixth generation apple farmer from Highland, NY. He was very homely and warm spirited. Fred didn’t hesitate to share some tips and tricks for apple displaying and tasting. He also agreed to wholesale us two crates of apples and two crates of cider. And now we had our fruit.

We loaded up Lloyd’s car and headed home. We were joined by my neighbor, Noni Fernandez, at Bread-Stuy , a community hub where local and non-local neighbors congregated and shared ideas. Noni, Shane and I set up a market with some of the expertise of Tom and some shared tips from the professionals at the Cadman Plaza market. We displayed our collards and kale greens, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, apples and cider. And even before we finished setting up the market, the early risers approached one by one, inquiring into the source of the beautiful foods.

We opened at 8:05 am. We made immediate sales in the first and second hours. By 10 am, the people began to emerge from their homes. These were all my neighbors venturing through their day. This was the crowd that willingly altered their course from sheer curiosity, hunger of the eyes, and maybe even a little support for the kids from the neighborhood taking the lead on making a needed change.

The Bed-Stuy Youthmarket in 2009

By noon we sold over half of our fruits and vegetables. By 3 pm we had already arranged to drop off the remaining produce at the local soup kitchen. We sold until 3:30 pm, when the apples shared only four friends of their kind and the cider, collards, kale and onions had all dispersed to new homes.

The market was a hit. And not only was it a hit, it created an opportunity to welcome a newer dialogue between the neighborhood, itself and three teenagers on the benefits of the produce we were sharing, and numerous ways in which we could cook, pickle or even juice

We headed home around 5 pm, after all the conversations were had about doing this over and over again week after week. The neighborhood liked it and we loved it. We all knew what we had done in the now. We were creating our community.

Want to learn more about GrowNYC and our $40 for 40 campaign? Visit http://www.grownyc.org/blog/greenmarket-40-40.