Bronx Residents Celebrate 10 Years of Growing Their Own

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Visit Tremont Park on Tuesdays from July through October and you’re likely to see Karen Washington running La Familia Verde Farmers’ Market, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season. In 2003, when La Familia Verde Coalition was looking to launch their community-led market, Karen enlisted Just Food’s help to advocate with city and state agencies, figure out insurance, and connect with rural farmers to supplement produce grown by Bronx community gardeners. 
Working with Karen during La Familia Verde’s first years, Just Food developed a market training and a host of resources to help other community groups in underserved neighborhoods start their own markets. This season, the City Farms Market Network has grown to over 20 markets.
Market manager and community gardener, Karen has been a driving force behind garden and healthy food access initiatives in the Bronx for decades, as well as a vocal advocate for underserved communities throughout New York City and beyond. “I don’t like to take credit,” Karen says, “Just write me up as a little birdy that puts things in people’s ears. It’s not one person that makes things happen, it is a collective. I just want to be part of a group that dreamed big, and had a big vision.” 
Karen co-founded La Familia Verde Garden Coalition in 1998, when the city was auctioning off community gardens. Karen, a member of the Garden of Happiness, realized that instead of trying to fight for each individual garden, gardeners could band together and have a much better chance of survival. 
La Familia Verde decided to do more than just garden; they also worked to better the community as a whole. “We did a survey,” Karen says. “We asked the community if a farmers’ market was something they wanted. 99.9% said they would like to see one.” Karen connected with Just Food around this time. “Just Food was just getting into community gardens and they were giving workshops.” Eventually, she enlisted the organization’s help to set up the market. 
Karen loves to share stories from her market: “Two women are arguing over collard greens, and this woman says, “$.99 for them? I can go down to the store and buy them for $.79. Plus, these have holes.” So the other woman says, “Well, where does it come from?” And I tell her where they come from, and the second woman says, “I want them.” The first asks, “Why do you want them?” “I want them because they have holes.” “Why would you want them with holes?” “Because the insects ate them and I know that that means they’re good.” 
“So, not only did the second woman buy them, so did the other. Now I’m proud if I bring some collard greens and they have holes in them. I say, “If the insects can eat them, you can eat them!” 
La Familia Verde’s Farmers’ Market continues to grow. For Karen, the best part of the market’s success is how it has strengthened the community. “The money we make pays for the guy who puts up tables, the people who pick up the produce, and the guy who puts veggies into the truck. This year we are able to  pay an EBT manager. We’re becoming more self-sufficient, so, instead of relying on grants, we’re creating jobs and self-reliant communities.” Ninety percent of the food is purchased with SNAP benefits and other low-income assistance. “If someone comes to the market hungry, they don’t walk away hungry.”
Karen’s vision for the next 10 years? “I want to see more markets like ours, especially in low income neighborhoods, so that everyone has access to food that is fresh. No one should have to beg to eat healthy food.”