At the end of last month, during the busy season at Youthmarket, we visited our Lower East Side Youthmarket which is in partnership with Henry Street Settlement, whose mission is to ”open doors of opportunity for Lower East Side residents and other New Yorkers through social services, arts and health care programs.” This market is open on Thursdays through November 21st, from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
What is Youthmarket? It is a network of urban farm stands operated by neighborhood youth, supplied by local farmers and designed to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to communities throughout New York City. Youthmarket offers families in NYC increased access to farm fresh food, youth in these areas earn money and learn small-business skills, and farmers in the New York City region continually achieve higher revenue through access to under-served markets.
It was a hot, sunny Thursday afternoon, the type that makes you slow and lethargic, with the heat like an inescapably stifling blanket. But as we approached the Lower East Side Youthmarket on Grand Street, there was no sign that the summer’s worst had done its work. There was a flurry of activity. Everywhere else along the block it was empty and quiet, but the farm stand was a hub of lively chatter and busy hands.
We found Phylisha Conyers busily stringing together small cards with vegetable names written on them, to be used as signs indicating the type and cost of produce displayed. She agreed to a quick interview while her hands continued to be productive, without missing a beat.
How did you get involved with GrowNYC's Youthmarket?
I heard about the Youthmarket program from one of my Project RISE supervisors at the Henry Street Settlement. I am working towards getting my diploma there. When I heard about Youthmarket, I thought: “Okay that seems interesting!” I mean this is something I've never done before and I wanted the experience.
I tried it out with my sister, Tiana Conyers, who’s in the same program with me. We went to orientation, which was about 9 hours long, but really interesting. So I agreed to join.
What has the experience been like so far?
I’ve been here since July 10th of this year. It’s been really cool. In the beginning it was a bit overwhelming. When we began set up, there were so many people lined up already - we hadn’t even started yet! But I figured it out and learned a lot along the way, so the customers are always taken care of. The market is open every Thursday, so you’ll find me here!
What is your favorite item on sale here today?
I would have to say…the plums and the kale. The plums are so sweet.
(Phylisha's sister, Tiana Conyers, chimes in) Tiana: Say the peaches. They’re better.
Phylisha: I like the plums the best. As for kale, we never tried it before working here, but we recently tried juicing it and it was so good.
Tiana: Also, the corn here is so different from regular supermarket corn. Frozen corn is like dead corn compared to this! One other thing I learned is about carrot tops: you should use them. People often throw them away but I learned we can make delicious pesto with it. We cook together every week. I believe we’re doing collard greens today.
In your spare time, what hobbies do you have?
Right now I’m really interested in photography. It would be cool to become a photographer someday. Aside from photography, I also love make-up. I do that for fun, to be creative.
What do you believe is the importance of what you do here?
Reaching out to the community, to people who are struggling, to those who don’t have access to things others do - I feel it’s so good to help them. People come here and buy their food every week, and it’s so good to serve them here on a regular basis. We have friendly customers and I love seeing them.
The Lower East Side Youthmarket is located on Grand Street between Pitt and Willett Streets, Manhattan. It is in operation every Thursday through November 21st, from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.