Small Business Central

Vendors and Customers Find Community at the RiseBoro Farmers Market

Tented stalls line the southern edge of Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick. Crates are stocked full of seasonal produce, an abundance of fall-colored squashes, apples, and carrots stacked up neatly. To the naked eye, it is simply another congregation of vendors and farmers trying to sell their goods. 

However, this market expands on the traditional idea of a trade post for locally grown and made goods. The RiseBoro Farmers Market was created and designed by Sean-Michael Fleming and Travis Tench and later taken over by nonprofit RiseBoro to help and expand businesses started by underrepresented communities in the greater New York City area—such as migrants, BiPOC, and non-English speakers.  

The market operates every Saturday from 8am to 3pm at Maria Hernandez Park, but a continuous slew of rainy Saturdays has cut down the number of people in attendance. Still, a group of customers congregate with umbrellas, ducking under the tents to peek at the week’s selection of goods. 

According to NYC’s Population FactFinder, 51.0% of Bushwick residents identify as Hispanic, and according to the US Census, 31.4% of Bushwick residents speak English “less than very well.” 

At one stall, belonging to Pavia Family Farm, an older couple, Ruperto and Rosbelia Pavia, chatted in rapid-fire Spanish with several customers while two younger boys, their grandsons, stood at their sides. The farm, located in Hazlet, NJ, is chemical and GMO-free. 

“We have a natural obligation to the crops,” said Jose Gil, Pavia’s older grandson, acting as a translator. “We just allow them to grow, and we bring them here when they’re done.” 

For the Pavias, the RiseBoro Farmers Market has been a blessing.

“The opportunity my grandpa was given, to bring his crops to New York and share them with people, it makes him so happy,” explained Gil. “Seeing other people enjoy what he created brings him joy.” 

Gil and his family are happy to serve a community that speaks their language and looks like them. 

“We get a lot of locals here,” said Gil. “It’s all very comfortable.” 

As the customers putter around the market with foldable grocery carts stocked full of produce, a popular stall displays a colorful array of black, green, and fruit teas and blends inspired by traditionally Caribbean and Barbadian flavors.

At Sisters 3 Tea, Christine Yarde and her two sisters aim to change the way people experience and understand tea. Yarde and her sisters became an integral part of the Farmers Market a few years ago when they participated in RiseBoro’s co-op academy, where they learnt about business sovereignty and how to run and sustain a business. 

“We want to bring healthier options to our community, which is other people from the Caribbean and those in Flatbush and Central Brooklyn,” said Yarde, CEO. “The market has been an amazing place to interact with our community.” 

For Yarde, the best part about the market is the customers. 

“We’ve been here a few years now, and people come back and remember and repurchase from us,” she said. “It’s really galvanizing. We have built so much confidence from the RiseBoro Farmers Market.” 

Emanuel Ruffler, a baker at solar-powered micro bakery Starrlight Pizza, feels the same way. Their stall is decorated with an assortment of handmade fermented loaves wrapped up in rustic brown paper, and they chat with and offer samples to customers who pass by.

“The market is our home base, our roots, a direct connection to our community,” he said. 

Starrlight Pizza sells their pizzas across Brooklyn and Queens and their breads across all five boroughs. They have been customers at the market since its inception in 2009 and understand the market from both the customer and vendor perspectives. 

“Selling at the market means connecting with shoppers and community members as much as possible,” said Ruffler. “It’s a lot of fun. Plus, we get to meet lots of cute dogs!”

For the vendors, who find ways to reach out to their communities, and the customers, who can find products that match their cultural needs, the RiseBoro Farmers Market continues to bring communities together at Maria Hernandez Park. In fact, it continues to touch their lives, even as they continue elsewhere. 

“It was actually at the market that we found out about the Community Solar Project in Queens that now powers our bakery,” said Ruffler, joyfully. “So even that important ingredient in our baked goods, the heat, the starlight in our name—we found it at the market!”

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