This Thursday the first ever Liberty City Farmers’ Market will convene at
TACOLCY Park (6161 NW 9th Avenue) (see comment section for new location!) from noon to 6 p.m. A partnership between several local organizations, the market aims to be a much-needed source of healthy, mostly local food in the middle of the Liberty City food desert. Today I spoke to Melissa Contreras, market manager and founder of the Urban Oasis Project, about the mission of the market and the bounty of exquisite local produce that will be on sale there.
Where does all the produce that will be at the market come from?
Melissa Contreras: It’s all local except yesterday morning we made a decision to accept produce that is coming from small African-American-owned farms in Georgia. It’s things we don’t have here anyway, like peanuts and pecans. We’re doing it to support those farmers because that’s consistent with our mission. Other than that, it is entirely local. It’s all South Florida, nothing from wholesalers, nothing that you could buy at the [supermarket], nothing from big growers. It’s all from small local farms with the one exception of the two folks in Georgia. [Ed. note: The farms include Bee Heaven Farm, Worden Farm, Three Sisters Farm — which are all certified organic — and Teena’s Pride.]
What is the core mission of the Liberty City Farmers’ Market?
Melissa Contreras: The core mission is to actually bring more healthy food options to a food desert, which is Liberty City and the Little Haiti area, where there just aren’t that many healthy food options or many grocery stores. Most people get their food at corner stores, which is generally processed food. There’s just not enough access to fresh food.
Whose idea was it to open a farmers’ market in Liberty City?
Melissa Contreras: Actually, it was simultaneously the idea of a lot of different people. It started as a concrete thing when I was helping at the Overtown Farmers’ Market this past spring, and thinking, “We really need this for Liberty City.” And of course we had people from Liberty City … thinking the same thing. So a lot people at the same time said we really need to do this for Liberty City. Everyone just wanted to see this happen.
Because I had the most experience at farmers’ markets, [the partners] appointed me as market manager. But the eventual idea is for people from the community to take the market over and for it to be completely run by people who live in Liberty City.
How long do you think that will take to happen?
Melissa Contreras: Realistically, it could be two years, but we’re hoping by next year. It really depends on people in the community coming forward and being willing to take on different responsibilities, and also people who see the potential to make some money as vendors at the market. There’s a lot of opportunity for people who want to help run the market, for entrepreneurs who make food products, or even home gardeners who want to plant a little extra.
How big a turnout do you expect this Thursday?
Melissa Contreras: It’s hard to say with an opening day of a market. Overtown was not huge numbers of people, but the people who came were glad it was there, and it got better every week. We’re doing a lot of outreach in Liberty City, more than ever happened at Overtown. The youth are going door to door, reaching out to the community and telling them about the market. [We’re] posting fliers all over town, talking to churches, at the corner stores, and people are very receptive. And besides that, we’re getting as much attention as we can, with virtually no budget, through social media.
So with all of these venues reaching out to the local community and people beyond, to bring in customers from outside of the community to get to know the good people [of Liberty City] and spend some money in a community that needs it, I’m anticipating — a realistic number would be 1,000 people at our first market throughout the course of the day.
So what will we be able to shop for at the market?
Melissa Contreras: Yeah, that’s what it’s all about, right? My favorite thing to talk about. We’ve got some real gorgeous produce. We’ve got some of the season’s first tomatoes, big, red, gorgeous tomatoes. We have some organic collard greens, as well as conventional. We’ve got some beautiful squashes, Asian eggplant — really nice and tender. Some gorgeous heads of lettuce — not iceberg — it’s leaf lettuce. We have radishes. We have some very interesting and unusual turnips. They’re Asian turnips. They’re smaller and milder than regular turnips, and they’re red in color. Most Asian turnips are white in color, but these are actually red. They can be eaten raw in salads or baked in the oven. They can also be sauteed. They’re real nice vegetables, and I don’t know of anyone else who has them. We’ve got some Florida organic oranges. We’ve got okra. We’ll have some specialty Caribean crops, like callaloo.
Melissa Contreras: It’s real popular in the islands. It’s a species of amaranth, also called Jamaican Spinach. It’s very nice. It should be cooked just slightly, not overcooked or it gets slimy.
We also have sorrel — “sorrel” is what they call it in the islands. There’s a traditional Christmas drink made of sorrel and ginger. It’s bright red, and it’s delicious, full of vitamin C. It’s so red it looks like an artificial color, but it’s natural. Another name for it is roselle, or Florida cranberry.
And yuca! We have fresh, local yuca.
We’ll also have some tropical fruits — I’m not sure what those will be yet. Everything is local and seasonal, so it depends on what’s available. We couldn’t tell you this week what we’ll have next week until we know what the farmers have ready to pick in their fields. That’s the beauty of it, I think. You don’t know what you’re going to get. A lot of people cook with a cookbook and then go buy the ingredients, which to me is just backwards. You should use whatever you have that’s local and use your creativity to make something wonderful.