by Mark Van Streefkerk
Getting fresh, local produce in the hands of South Delridge’s East African, immigrant, and refugee communities has historically been a challenge. The USDA-designated food desert doesn’t have sufficient grocery options close by to meet the needs of the community, and last year’s closure of the West Seattle bridge only isolated the area even more. After securing important funding from the King Conservation District’s local food program about nine months ago, African Community Housing & Development (ACHD) decided to launch their own farmers market.
Featuring BIPOC farmers and vendors, the Delridge Farmers Market brings locally-grown, culturally appropriate options for fresh produce and food to the community. The market kicks off this Saturday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the courtyard of Hope Academy at 9421 18th Avenue Southwest. Masks are required, as well as social distancing protocols.
The Delridge Farmers Market pilot program will take place on the second Saturday of each month from June to November 2021.
“The community’s been asking for more food access programs for a while,” said Rachel Perlot, fund development and food access director at ACHD. The Delridge enclave includes Somali, Ethiopian, Oromo, and Kenyan communities. “Our goal is we want to get veggies and culturally relevant foods into as many hands — and use as many food access programs — as possible — SNAP/EBT. We [also have] our own voucher program that we’re doing. If folks don’t have SNAP or EBT quite yet, we can give them vouchers to spend,” Perlot said.
The Delridge Farmers Market exists to help meet the food access needs of the community and to create low-barrier opportunities for local BIPOC-owned vendors. There are no stall fees for vendors, tents and other equipment are provided if needed — including handwashing stations required by the City — and produce that isn’t sold is bought by ACHD and distributed to seniors in the community. By buying and redistributing unsold food, the market helps eliminate waste, compensates vendors, and provides nutritious food to people who might not have been able to make it to the market.
This Saturday’s market will feature at least seven vendors, including Burundian farmers at Umoja Ni Nguvu; Black Farmers Collective’s Small Axe Farm; Black, Indigenous, Asian, and LGBTQ-owned Moon Village Bakery; Chef Jalissa Culinary Co.; Afella Jollof Catering; City Fruit; and Sariwa Farm.
Eventually the market would like to include halal meats and possibly other goods like soaps or candles, but for now the emphasis is on fresh produce. ACHD’s Associate Director Bilan Aden emphasized that the pilot program is an opportunity for community involvement and feedback. Vendors who think they would be a good fit are encouraged to reach out.
“We’re going to be taking polls at every farmers market and making sure that we listen to the community about the kind of foods that they would like to see,” Aden said. “If it’s not represented at the farmers market currently, we will definitely do our best to … make sure that we are bringing in what the community needs.”
Leading up to the idea of a farmers market, Aden had partnered with Hope Academy, a Somali and English dual-language school, for an after-school urban garden program. Hope Academy provided the space to build out a garden. Another part of the program was teaching students advocacy skills to engage their families and communities about issues around food insecurity. Through a series of Community Cafe Conversations, people shared that healthy food was not accessible to them in the neighborhood.
“What that translated to for students, for the community members, for myself, was ‘How about we bring fresh food to the place where we live?’” Aden said. “‘How do we do that in a way that is beneficial to BIPOC communities as well?’ And what that all translated into was ‘Let’s create a farmers market.’”
After securing funding from King Conservation District, Albertsons Foundation, and the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the vision of the market began to materialize.
The Delridge Farmer’s Market is different from other, mostly white-led farmers markets in the greater Seattle area, Aden noted. “It’s a win-win situation. [Delridge residents] can get access to fresh food, and it’s economically beneficial to BIPOC vendors who historically have not had access to farmers markets.”
ACHD is already seeking funding for next year. Some future hopes are to eventually increase the frequency of markets to once a week and gather more information from the community about how to increase food access year-round.
📸 Featured Image: Young students at an after-school garden program at Hope Academy. Photo courtesy of African Community Housing & Development.
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