A new farmers market opened earlier this month with a special purpose: to provide culturally relevant, locally sourced food for the African Diaspora and immigrant community, and to uplift BIPOC farms and food businesses. It takes place the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., June to November, at the Hope Academy in South Delridge.
The market is a new program of African Community Housing & Development (ACHD), a nonprofit with a mission to “provide opportunities for African Diaspora immigrant and refugee communities, families, and individuals in King County to attain health and housing stability, economic development, high-quality education, and referrals to legal services.” Just before the market’s launch, we spoke with Bilan Aden, Associate Director and co-founder, and Rachel Perlot, Fund Development and Food Access Director, who is also a farmer.
Bilan has been dreaming of launching this market for years. It started as an idea when she was completing graduate work at the University of Washington, with a practicum leading outdoor education for children at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island. Her favorite lessons were out in the gardens where she taught fourth and fifth graders about food and food justice.
After graduation, Bilan wanted to explore bringing these same lessons to the community she serves. A successful grant application funded an 18-month program for children in the African Diaspora community in South Delridge.
In addition to building an urban farm, Bilan said students led “community café conversations… where they invited their parents and their community members to share and ask questions around food and food access. And so, the conversations evolved over time about how there was lack of access to culturally relevant, locally sourced, fresh food in the South Delridge area. That area’s considered to be a food apartheid zone.
“And so, that’s when we started to think about how do we bring more vendors of color to provide this food… and then also how do we create a low barrier for these vendors.”
Because ACHD’s mission is to serve this community holistically, the new market is meeting an important part of their vision for their clients. Bilan says, “We do have programs where we’re providing rental assistance support, but we also know that that is just taking care of an immediate need. But it doesn’t really address how do we think about getting out of this cycle of intergenerational poverty…this project is amazing in a sense because we are addressing food and food insecurity, but we’re also providing economic development opportunities for the vendors…making it a low barrier way for vendors to start – to get into the market of farmers markets.”
Rachel says, “The community we work with is African immigrant and refugee families, and so a lot of these folks are coming to a wildly different natural environment than their home countries and a wildly different food scene as well…and it made sense to transition that into a farmers market where they can see how different businesses are operating in this climate.
“And there are a lot of really incredible small, BIPOC-owned food-based businesses in this area that are just launching, or figuring out how to launch, or are wanting to reach an audience that is more reflective of the food that they produce, and so we saw [a farmers market] was a great opportunity to bring those two things together.”’
This dual focus on consumers and producers has forged a unique pilot model for this market. In addition to traditional market promotion on social media and through flyers, residents of ACHD’s housing programs are a key audience for the market. Case managers and outreach staff have played a big role in spreading the word to potential shoppers. For folks in their community who may have limited transportation or mobility, ACHD plans to purchase any surplus produce at the end of each market day and share it with them, with a specific focus on the community’s elders.
This guarantee of sales is beneficial to producers, too, eliminating the financial risk that vendors face, especially when trying out a new venue for sales. Plus, ACHD is not charging a stall fee, is providing the equipment that sellers need – such as a tent, table, and chairs – and is even helping new vendors with the insurance costs required to sell at markets.
These administrative barriers, Rachel says, have been one of the biggest challenges of launching a new market. In addition to rapidly changing regulations because of COVID-19, she says, “It is pretty much impossible to find insurance for a farmers market that doesn’t also require every single vendor to have their own insurance as well, and that is a pretty big barrier for a lot of these small businesses…Also, a lot of our vendors – English is not their first language – and so navigating public health…navigating insurance companies – it’s all very intimidating.”
When asked what they are most excited about with the market’s launch, Bilan says, “I’m excited to test our model. This is something that we thought strategically about for a while, and we’re just excited to see how it works…and to learn as a community how we can make things better, and how we can scale this pilot.”
Rachel says that the venue itself has energized her work on the market, describing a beautiful courtyard with café lights, a historic religious building, and tall trees. She notes, “It’s just the perfect space for community to gather, for vendors to sell amazing food…for gathering and celebration.”
The ACHD team also hopes that this new venue can provide a space where people of color can feel truly included in a farmers market environment, noting that not many market spaces are dedicated primarily to these communities in Seattle.
But Rachel sees benefits for white shoppers, too.
“Food is a really interesting form of soft diplomacy,” she said. “I think that food is a really easy access point for people to start learning about other cultures. And so, I think that farmers markets can be this really beautiful space where cultures are all learning about each other, where the white community in South Delridge – in the White Center area – are learning about their neighbors of color and learning more about the food that they eat and the cultures that they come from.”
The community is excited for this new market to become a part of the neighborhood. Many of the vendors contacted about selling at the market grew up in the Delridge area, Rachel says, and were familiar with the lack of access to healthy food in the area.
“People are just excited to sell to their own communities,” she said. “We have a lot of folks, a lot of vendors, who are bilingual or multilingual, and so it’s going to be really exciting, too, to see so many different languages spoken at the market.”
Market attendees as well as new food vendors, especially those that are BIPOC-owned, can reach out to the ACHD team about joining the market at https://www.achdo.org/delridgefarmersmarket.
Credit for all photos belongs to Maximilian Golub.