Used to be that local farmers markets closed down in summer, or brought produce in from elsewhere. Isn’t anything growing, I’ve heard. Too hot. But that isn’t necessarily so! Quite an abundance of local and seasonal produce (and other local foods) has been available at the Upper Eastside Farmers Market, which has stayed open through a second summer and is still going strong.
You can count on lots of fruit during the summer. In the last several months I’ve seen lychees, canistel, dragon fruit, mamey, longans, white sapote, Thai guava, jackfruit, starfruit, monstera, mango, avocado, mamoncillo, red guava, sugar apples (anon), bananas and plantains as they come in (and go out) of season. The market also offers eggs, callaloo, collards, both sweet and hot peppers, herbs, french sorrel, potatoes, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, squash, boniato, calabaza, snake gourd, allspice berries, katuk, honey, Art’s pickles and whatever else is available. You won’t go hungry in the summer!
Market manager Art Friendrich (or his assistant Olga Gomez) makes rounds of dozens of small local farmers and gardens every week, gathering produce for the market. Everything is fresh, and some picked to order. And everything is labeled clearly if it is organic or pesticide free, sustainably or conventionally grown, and which farm it came from. Upper Eastside is one of three markets run by Urban Oasis Project, a non-profit dedicated to bringing fresh and local food to underserved neighborhoods. “UEFM is our only year-round market, and in peak season we run or sell at other community based markets,” Art said. All markets run by Urban Oasis Project accept EBT (food stamps) and doubles dollars — $10 of EBT funds will buy $20 worth of food.
Serving the Community
Art and Olga employ Youth L.E.A.D. apprentices and train them in sales, service and the details of local produce. “They are placed for 6 month periods, and we have had about 6 different apprentices over the last 12 months,” Art said. Judith Fucien has been working at the market for about eight months and enjoys it. “I like meeting new people and exposing them to fruits and vegetables,” she said. Since she started, she has gained experience about food and people. “I learned that all fruits and vegetables are not from here, that not all people are the same, they’re very different in many ways, and there’s lots of friendly dogs.” Judith comes in the morning to set up tents and tables, stays all day helping customers, and at closing helps pack everything up. Market volunteer Miss Shirley sang Judith’s praises. “I admire her because she’s very faithful, very committed to her job,” she repeated.
Customers can close the food loop by bringing back their raw fruit and vegetable scraps for composting. Right now, the scraps are going to Art’s compost heap, but that wasn’t always the case. Recent Youth L.E.A.D. graduate Terry Perman would take a full bin of scraps for composting to the nearby Earth N Us urban farm. But grant money ran out and Terry moved on. Founder Erin Healy has applied for grant money from the Health Foundation to resume this project. She wants to buy an adult tricycle (with a big basket to haul a compost collection bin) and pay a monthly stipend to the compost gatherer. Composting is just one of many programs and events run by the non-profit. According to Erin, “Youth L.E.A.D. is an emerging food justice organization that educates, empowers, and employs underserved youth to eat healthy, local diets while increasing access to healthy, local foods in their communities.”
Visit With the Vendors
Every time I chat with Yorkys of Bodhi’s Garden Delights I learn something new. She grows herbs in raised beds in her back yard and at Wynwood on the Green, then pots them up to sell at market. This past weekend, she offered Cuban oregano, aloe, culantro, thyme, rue and papalo, along with less typical varieties of basil. Each plant comes with a little card indicating what it’s good for and how to prepare it. Ask her a question, and Yorkys will share her knowledge of cooking and self-care. She also sells cooked vegetarian food, seasoned with her herbs.
At Novae Gourmet Jerky you’ll meet lively and talkative Helen Cole, the artisan who makes small batches of jerky with Angus beef and chicken. She sources clean meats that are hormone and antibiotic free, and seasons them with her own blends of spices and herbs. Beef comes in teriyaki, BBQ, honey coryaki (sweet or hot) and penang chili (hot) flavors. Chicken jerky comes in teryaki and now penang chili flavors, and is incredibly popular. Some varieties are sliced thick and chewy, and others are thin and crispy like chips. Helen calls her customers “jerky junkies” and for good reason. Try one piece and you want another. Next thing you know the package is empty, and it’s time to get more.
A sunny day at market can be wicked hot and requires a stop for refreshment at Nature Boyz where Clive makes fresh juices. You’ll find him in constant motion behind his bamboo stand — feeding stalks of sugar cane into a large boxy juicer that presses sweet cane juice (guarapo) into a container, or cutting up fruits and loading the swirling blender, or pouring and serving drinks to thirsty customers. Every drink starts with a base of sugarcane and you can choose pineapple, mango, passion fruit or carrot, or design your own blend. If you need a pick me up, ask for extra ginger. Other choices are fresh coconut water straight from the nut, or a shot of fresh-squeezed wheatgrass. Clive also offers a small assortment of tropical fruit, which he sources from growers in Homestead.
Some of the other vendors at the market are Proper Sausages, Copperpot’s Jams, Hadaya Spices, Crackerman, Asha’s Orchids, Massud’s Roasted Corn, and Akete’s Jamaican Fritters.
The market is open on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. It located next to the NET office on Biscayne and 66th St. (They moved in March from their old location on a windy, noisy corner of Biscayne and 79th St.) Parking is very tight, as people jostle for a handful of spaces. Almost every weekend there’s a close call (and sometimes a fender bender) in that cramped little lot. Best to turn from Biscayne onto 64th St., go east one block, turn left, go one short block and leave your car in the Legion Memorial Park lot. The walk through the park to the market is safe, pleasantly breezy, and not very long. If you pass by early enough, there’s a free yoga class of about 20 students that meets every Saturday morning at 10 am in the shade of live oak trees.