The Harambee Farmer's market attracts only 15-30 customers every Saturday. (Photo: King Anyi Howell)
Obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol all disproportionately affect the African American community. Studies show that a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is often a major factor. Planet Harmony’s King Anyi Howell visits a farmer’s market in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood that’s working to make vegetables more accessible. The farmers are finding that making vegetables available may be easier than getting customers to buy them.
YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth—I’m Jeff Young. We have just launched a new online initiative called Planet Harmony, where young people who have often been left out of the environmental debate can report on the issues affecting their communities. Today’s story comes from Los Angeles. California’s Department of Public Health says less half of African Americans in the state eat enough fruits and vegetables—often because fresh produce simply isn’t available where they live. A farmer's market in LA's predominantly black Crenshaw neighborhood is finding that if you build it, they won't necessarily come. Planet Harmony's King Anyi Howell reports.
[SOUNDS OF STREET/MUSIC]
ANYI: Out here at the Harambee Farmer's Market, its crazy empty! I've been here since maybe 12—it's almost 2:30—there's nobody here, I maybe saw one person go get some fruits.
[SOUNDS OF INTERSECTION AT CRENSHAW/SLAUSON]
ANYI: It’s an average Saturday morning at the Harambee Farmer’s market. Baskets of bright red tomatoes and strawberries settled next to fresh picked greens and okra all compete for attention in the area saturated with fast food chains and lesser known grease depots.
[SOUNDS OF INTERSECTION AT CRENSHAW/SLAUSON]
ANYI: The market is at the busy intersection of Crenshaw and Slauson, at a former Fire Station tucked between a bank and an auto paint shop. Michelle Guillaume lives in South Central. She says the farmer’s market is in the perfect location to attract customers.
GUILLAUME: It’s where commercial business meets hustlers and street vendors and with Crenshaw Boulevard being what it is, just everybody—it’s a main vein in our city, so you get some of everybody and we all mingle on these corners.
ANYI: Guillaume buys fresh strawberries to add to lemonade, green onions and lettuce for her taco truck that operates right outside the market. Nearby a customer is buying oranges.
MAN: We have oranges three for a dollar.
ANYI: But apart from them there are very few shoppers. The African Firefighters in Benevolence Association or AFIBA that organizes the Market is really trying to attract more customers and expand the market, which currently only has seven stands. They’ve hung a large banner advertising the market’s hours for the thousands of cars that drive by daily; they telephone local residents, and they also try to lure customers with a live band.
[SOUNDS OF LIVE JAM BAND]
ANYI: But even that doesn’t seem to be working. The market remains largely empty.
Shoppers pass the market by and head for the neon-emblazed, Ralph’s Supermarket. I walked across the street to ask a Ralph’s customer, Ladine, why she didn’t come to the Market.
LADINE: Mostly everybody buys their produce here because they want to go to one place to get everything you need.
ANYI: The big supermarket may not have quality produce but it is convenient and familiar. While the farmer’s market remains hidden in plain sight.
LADINE: I didn’t know about the market and now that I know I will go.
ANYI: Vegetables at Harambee go straight from the ground to the community. The food here provides nutrition that is missing from the fast food chains and bodegas that line these streets.
ROBINSON: Today we have grapes.
ANYI: That’s vendor, Etea Robinson.
ROBINSON: We have corn grown in the Williamson farm up in Merced.
ANYI: The lack of customers puts Farmers like Larry Williamson, who labor to make fresh produce available to the black community, in a tough spot.
WILLIAMSON: I could probably run this, struggle along for another five years.
ANYI: Williamson is a native of Los Angeles, but farms about a four-hour drive away in Merced, California. He told me that he is in a unique position to help provide healthy options to the African-American community.
WILLIAMSON: I don’t think that I’m gonna never garner the Italian Market, the Hispanic market or the Asian Market. I’ve made it very clear that I’m in a better position to help the black market because we’ve always had the argument from the ‘80s to the ‘90s that the food that comes to our stores is old; it’s tainted and all these things.
ANYI: His farm grows 150 to 200 thousand dollars worth of produce annually but he has to give away most of his unsold crops or feed them to the chickens and goats that graze on the farm, so he barely turns a profit. However, Williamson keeps coming back to the farmer's market. He's committed to providing competitively priced healthy alternatives to the cheap junk food that's so common here. For Larry it's about more than just green, he has a vision.
WILLIAMSON: I have enough land and seeds that I can make probably an extra 20 to 30 thousand dollars and put it in my pocket and be totally satisfied but that’s not my goal, that not my objective. My goal is to in the next five years I want to own 100 acres and lease 1,000 acres. With that amount of land, I can feed every black family in California!
ANYI: And maybe Williamson’s enthusiasm is starting to catch on. Traffic at Harambee is slowly picking up. The people who organize the market have added more regular activities like live music and self defense workshops. They also accept WIC vouchers. With the help of farmers like Larry Williamson and the AFIBA center that supports the market, Harambee may slowly start to shift inner city eating trends. Drop by if you are ever in LA on a Saturday afternoon.
[SOUNDS OF HARAMBEE MUSIC]
ANYI: Let me get some of these grapes! For Planet Harmony and Living on Earth, I'm King Anyi Howell
YOUNG: King Anyi Howell reports for our brand new online offering Planet Harmony, which welcomes all, and is designed to have special appeal for young African Americans. Check it out and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com. That's my planet harmony dot com.
[SOUND OF MARKET MUSIC FADES]
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