Brownsville Farmers Market is small, a clutch of three tents set up in the entrance plaza of the Jesse Trice Community Health Center. But this is where Melissa Contreras of the Urban Oasis Project non-profit, and her assistants, set up shop this season, selling fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables to the underserved community nearby.
The market is a welcome patch of green in an area not known for healthy eats. The afternoon I came to visit, the place was bustling with staffers and clients of the health center. I had just missed the lunch rush, but got swept up in the cheerful chaos of a group of women leaving a wellness class. They sampled bits of fruit and grabbed up cauliflower picked just 24 hours earlier. Melissa greeted many people by name and cheerfully answered questions. The market accepts EBT and offers matching funds up to $20. One man had a $10 matching token burning a hole in his pocket, which he had received from the center for reaching a health milestone. He carefully chose two golden papayas, bunches of fresh herbs, and a bag of Shawnee’s Green Thumb spirulina popcorn as a treat.
A woman who comes every week to shop for her family of eight children left with three large boxes of vegetables and a potted African Basil plant the size of a shrub. “This is the only place in Brownsville where she can get vegetables to feed her family,” Melissa said. “This is a food desert.” She explained that a food desert is an area where its residents do not have access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. The residents have to shop at small neighborhood markets that don’t stock much by way of fresh produce.
The Brownsville market moved around and changed names a bit. Originally it was known as the Liberty City market located at the TACOLCY Center. Because of permit issues, it moved to the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, then moved again to this current location and changed names. Last year, the market was funded by grants from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative, a federal grant administered by the county’s Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade. “This year, we are purely self-funded,” Melissa explained,”Our SNAP matching funds, which are a separate program, are from Wholesome Wave, as they are for all of our markets.”
As luck would have it, I got to meet Sharon Yeago, a local food activist and farmers market consultant, who was visiting that afternoon. She was accompanied by representatives of two new farmers markets in Dania Beach (PATCH) and Sistrunk, and stopped to chat for a moment. Sharon was instrumental in helping Urban Oasis get grants for the Brownsville market, and had helped get funding for four other new farmers markets in Miami-Dade. For the past year, Sharon’s been working in Broward to develop new markets through TOUCH (Transforming Our Community’s Health) Broward, a program of the Broward Regional Health Planning Council that also helps underserved residents get access to healthy food.
The Brownsville market is seasonal and will close in two weeks on April 17, following the winter growing season here. It will reopen sometime in fall. After the market closes, the mother of eight and other regulars will have to travel quite a bit further to shop at the next nearest local-grower-supported market. (That would be the Upper Eastside Farmers Market on 66 St. and Biscayne Blvd. It’s also run by Urban Oasis, and is open year round.) But at least there is another market that she can go to.
It took a lot of hard work and determination on the part of Brownsville market organizers to navigate their way through permit and zoning challenges, and to gather funding to get started. But the people of Urban Oasis have proved that it can be done, again and again, despite the odds. Hopefully Miami-Dade County can streamline the process to allow more farmers markets with less governmental difficulties. There aren’t that many sources of fresh produce in the food desert, yet the need is so great.
Brownsville Farmers Market at Jesse Trice Community Health Center
5361 NW 22nd Ave.
Miami FL 33142
Wednesdays from 11 am -2 pm
Seasonal, open through April 17, 2013 (resumes in Fall)