Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We made it on the front cover of Doral News! - take 2 English

FULL Article:
In February, I had to lay off 33% of my workforce. And, one of them was a good friend and scuba diving buddy. A few days after the lay offs were done and emotions were somewhat in check, she called me to chat. Both agreed that all was uncertain, and she asked me if I had a “plan B”. Then she jokingly said “well, you can always start your farmers market!”. I pondered this for a few days. Although our Doral Farmers Market is not by far my “plan b”, it is “a” plan which is going to help many others carry out their plan A or B.
One day I decided to go to the City of Doral website and click on “Contact us”. It was a stretch, but I wanted to find out if the City had any plans to start a Market. Two days later, I had a reply. I has very impressed with the City’s quick response and their eagerness to speak with me. Right away, I met with the Director of Zoning & Planning who encouraged the idea and welcomed my own crazy ideas. A Farmers Market was part of the City’s Green Master Plan. This was all news to me. This is when I seriously started thinking that with my help, Doral residents could have their own Farmers Market.
Where do I start? Of course, the internet. I did some research on other Farmers Markets and general information on how they work and what to expect. My husband checked out some books out of the library and I read up on marketing to vendors/farmers and to the community. I contacted a few people that were involved in the market and my Organic Buying club coordinator to get some more ideas and contacts.
Then, I started thinking that starting my own Farmers Market was way too much to do while working a demanding full time job and rising twin two year old boys!
One day, my neighbor and friend Mansi came over to borrow a folding table that she needed for her son’s birthday party. This is when I found out that she was unemployed, so I jokingly asked her if she could do the research to come up with a business plan for the Doral Farmers Market. To my surprise, she told me “I would LOVE to get involved, and I now have a lot of free time… “. A great partnership was born.
Mansi is unstoppable. From research on the internet to calling farmers and writing presentations, she’s done it all, and and she’s done it very well. I could not think of a better partner to make the Market happen.
By the beginning of May, we had to come up with some bullet points to present at the First Hearing. And, in her attempt to find more information, Mansi came across this Doral Fresh Market. The market functioned at the Doral Country Club and it went on for a couple of weeks last year. The company behind it was Eco Tem. So, we contacted Carlos Abad, the president, and he was very receptive to working with us. And so we decided to meet up at the Hearing: Carlos with Eco Tem, and Mansi and I as citizens of Doral. The first Hearing went great! It was my first time going to any type of public hearing, and it was a very interesting and education experience. Even with my experience as a Toastmaster, I was very nervous to speak about something very close to my heart but yet, I felt like I knew nothing about. But, it went very smoothly and everyone from Council members to the Mayor to other City Employees welcomed the idea of introducing an ordinance that would allow for a privately ran Farmers Market to operate in Doral.
After the overwhelming success of the First Hearing, we now had a lot of work to do before the Second Hearing. We had to come up with a location, find vendors, and secure some resources to pay for some of the expenses like insurance and marketing costs. The Second Hearing came soon in mid-June and the Ordinance was finalized and approved. Again, we were very impressed with the city’s professionalism and efficiency at handling this request. Council members asked very relevant questions, and they were all very positive about the market. Even Mayor Bermudez admitted that he could loose a few pounds by eating healthier and from locally grown farms.
So, Ordinance in hand, in her free time, Mansi went around Doral taking pictures of the different potential locations. Then, we sent them to Zoning & Planning to get their feedback and eliminate the ones that would not be allowed for one reason or another. We narrowed down our choices, and sent out two proposals. Pastor Carlos Leyrer from Divine Savior Lutheran Chruch responded quickly with very positive feedback and a concrete approval. It seemed too good to be true! We finally had an optimal location to operate the market.
Suddenly, things were falling into place.
By now, we decided that a good time to have the Grand Opening was October 31st. on Halloween. Little did we know that most farms are in the midst of planting during this time of the year. So, we knew from the beginning that getting farmers to commit to bringing their fresh produce from Homestead/Redlands was going to be a challenge.
Mansi contacted every farmer she could find, and eventually, we got a few appointments. I took a vacation day off work, and we made our way South. We discovered a whole new world and way of living. It’s really a beautiful landscape. You almost forget that you are in Florida. The folks we met were so amicable and they showed us around their farms ever so proud. They made us feel right at home. We discovered fruits that I had never heard of before. We also got eaten alive by mosquitoes! We ended up eating longans right out of the trees, and Farmer Rick gave Mansi a huge jackfruit to cook her favorite Indian recipe. Farmer Bob greeted us with red dragon fruit, which was out of this world. Eventually, we got some commitments, and made a few friends.
A few days later, I recognized dragon fruit at my local supermarket. I bought it and when I tried it, I was very disappointed. It did not come close to the flavor of Bob’s. Simply you can’t compare fresh grown dragon fruit to the supermarket equivalent.
July was intense as we continued our search for good vendors who offered products that went along our idea of having local, natural, organic, and “green” products. The more I read up on the topic of going green, healthy eating, and sustainability, the more passionate I become with making our Market happen. I keep telling my husband that it feels like I’m working on one of my business plans that I had to do for my MBA, only this time is for real!
So, when I tell my friends that we are starting a Farmers Market, and they ask me what’s in it for me? I smile and say nothing. Good tasting fresh food. I’ve already received so much from this journey. The experience itself has been so much fun, educational and rewarding. The thrill to know that we can provide fresh local food to our community, is worth every effort. I also think that a Farmers Market is one of the most visible manifestations of a city that wants to be green. It’s the first step towards showing an interest in sustainability and supporting local producers. And, given the current economic situation, it could not come at a better time.
See you all on October 31st.
Healthy regards,
-- Andrea

We made it on the front cover of Doral News! - take 2

Here is the FULL story that I sent to Doral News:

El proposito del Mercado de frutas y verduras es simplemente traer una opcion de distribucion de alimentos a la cuidad de Doral. Ademas, queremos traer educacion a nuestra cuidad. Educacion sobre el medio ambiente y nuestro impacto como consumidores y habitantes de este planeta tan fragil. A la misma vez, proveemos una oportunidad a vendedores locales para tener un espacio donde vender sus productos a un costo muy bajo.

Los “Farmers Markets” han estado abriendo por todos lados, pero lo que nos identifica del resto es nuestro objetivo de mantener el mercado con productos y vendedores locales y la educar a los que nos visiten en temas del medio ambiente, energia alternativa, y sustenibilidad.

La idea es traer agricultures del area, y no tener que comprar vegetales y frutas de otros estados lo que implica varios dias de refrigeracion y transporte que eleven el impacto en el medio ambiente y reducen los valores nutritivos de estos frutos. Para este proposito, hemos trabajado arduamente y contactando varias haciendas en el area de Homestead y Redlands. Tratamos de darles prioridad a vendedores del Doral. Tambien, como gerents del mercado, limitamos ciertos productos y tenemos el derecho de no permitir la venta de ciertas cosas que vayan en contra del proposito del mercado.

El segundo proposito es de educar a la gente acerca de temas del medio ambiente y sustenibilidad. Tendremos informacion para leer y expertos para explicar ciertos metodos de como, por ejemplo, usar energia solar para reducir o eliminar nuestra dependencia en la electricidad. Tendremos un “carrito” solar que podra proveer elctricidad a telefonos mobiles, computadoras, un horno, y hasta una licuadora!

Ademas, queremos que el mercado no sea solamente un lugar para ir de compras, sino un punto critico para encontrarse con amigos, disfrutar un poco de sol y naturaleza con la familia y pasar un rato agradable, quizas escuchando al trio de musica clasica o disfrutando de un batido o una empanada vegetariana.

Como surgio la idea del mercado?
En febrero, tuve que hechar al 33% de mis empleados. Uno de ellos fue una buena amiga y companera de buceo. Luego de varios dias, y una vez que las emociones se calmaron, me llamo para charlar un rato. Entre una cosa y otra, me pregunto si yo tenia otro plan en caso de que perdiera mi trabajo. Esto me dejo pensando… y ella, en broma me dijo, “bueno, de ultima podes seguir a tu sueno y abrir tu “Farmers Market”. En ese momento me parecio una idea loca que yo, con 36 anios, con una carrera exitosa, hijos mellizos de 2 anos, miembro activa de mi iglesia, con un hobby como buceo al cual hay que dedicarle much tiempo y energia, y con un esposo que no para de planear salidas pudiese pensar que podria tambien dedicarme a coordinar un mercado de frutas y verduras. Pero me quede pensando y la idea no se me iba de la cabeza.
Unos dias despues se me ocurrio visitar el sitio de internet de la Ciudad de Doral. Hice click en “contact us” y mande un mensaje preguntando si habia planes de armar un mercado en la Ciudad. Me sorprendio que en dos dias, el director de Zoning and Planning me contesto y me puso en contacto con las personas relacionadas al tema. Me impresiono mucho la rapidez de la respuesta, y unos dias despues la secretaria de la direccion de Zoning me llamo para arreglar una cita y discutir el tema del “Farmers Market”.
Empece entones a buscar informacion y leer acerca de otros mercados y como se organizaban y como funcionaban. Durante mi reunion, me entere que el “Green Master Plan” de la cuidad de Doral incluye un mercado. Asi que al yo comunicarme interesada en empezar un mercado, cayo como anillo al dedo. Desde este momento me di cuenta de que con mi ayuda, la ciudad de Doral tambien podria llegar a tener su propio mercado.
Y ahora que? Me pregunte. Por donde empiezo? Por supuesto, me tire de cabeza al internet. Mi esposo saco unos libros de la biblioteca sobre mercadeo y temas ambientales relacionados con los Farmers Markets. Contacte a toda persona que me atendio, y a la coordinadora de mi club de vegetales organicos quien me dio algunas ideas y advertencies tambien.
De repente, me di cuenta de que empezar algo tan grande sola no iba a ser facil. Y asi como del cielo, un dia mi amiga y vecina Mansi vino a pedirme prestada una mesa plegable para usar en el cumpleanos de su hijo. Charlando, me entere de que estaba sin trabajo y entonces en broma le mencione la idea del mercado y le pregunte si me queria ayudar, y ella, sin dudar un instante me respondio que le encataria.
Asi nacio esta gran sociedad. Mansi es incesable! Enseguida tomo las riendas y se encargo de todo: desde investigaciones en internet hasta llamar a cientos de haciendas y possibles vendedores, hasta disenar una encuesta para analizar el interes de la comunidad.
Para principios de mayo, teniamos que prepararnos para la primera reunion de los consejales de la Ciudad. Y en el proceso de buscar informacion, Mansi encontro a Doral Fresh Market que funciono en el Doral Country Club el ano pasado. La compania detras de este mercardo era Eco Tem. Entonces llamamos al presidente, Carlos Abad, quien fue muy cordial y demostro interes por trabajar con nosotros para hacer realidad el mercado.
Por fin llego el dia de la reunion donde el publico puede hacer sus comentarios. Yo, como buena Toastmaters habia preparado mi pequena presentacion pero estaba muy nerviosa. Pero realmente todo salio muy bien. Tanto los concejales, como el Mayor, como los empleados de la ciudad mostraron su apoyo.
Luego de esta reunion, teniamos mucho por hacer antes de la Segunda lectura de la ordenanza. Tendriamos que encontrar una sede para el mercado, conseguir vendedores y agricultures dispuestos a participar en el mercado y juntar el dinero que haria falta para cubrir los gastos minimos de seguro, formularios, etc.
Finalmente, a mediados de Junio, la ordenanza paso a ser ley con aprovacion unanime. Los consejales hicieron sus comentarios muy apropiados y hasta nuestro Mayor admitio que podria bajar unos kilitos comiendo frutas y verduras locales!
Entonces, Mansi se dedico unos dias a tomar fotos de lugares que nos parecio serian apropiados para que funcione el mercado. Mandamos unas 10 fotos al departamento de Zoning & Planning para que nos guiaran y nos dijeran cuales no podriamos utilizar. De todas las posibilidades, elejimos dos lugares y mandamos la propuesta. A los pocos dias, el Pastor de la iglesia Divine Savior Lutheran, nos contesto positivamente que querian que el mercado funcionara en su propriedad, especificamente, en el terreno del costado Oeste donde no hay edificacion. Nos parecia mentira que tan pronto conseguimos un lugar optimo para abrir nuestro mercado.
De repente, todo iba cayendo en su lugar.
Decidimos que la gran apertura seria el 31 de octubre para Halloween. Lo que no sabiamos es que en octubre, los agricultures estan en el medio de su ardua tarea de sembrar sus cultivos y no tienen mucho tiempo para traer sus productos al mercado. Entonces, Mansi se dedico exclusivamente a contactar a todo agricultor que pudo encontrar e hizo citas para visitarlos. Finalmente, yo me tome un dia de vacaciones y emprendimos nuestra travesia por Homestead y Redlands. Descubrimos un mundo diferente y una forma de vida muy distinta. Las personas que conocimos nos abrieron sus puertas y sus campos. Descubrimos frutas que nunca habiamos visto. Y fuimos descubiertas por cientos de mosquitos! Pero terminamos comiendo “longans” que arrancamos nosotros mismas de los arboles, y uno de los agricultures, Rick, le dio un “jackfruit” a Mansi para que preparara una comida Indu tipica que le quedo deliciosa. “Farmer Bob” nos recibio con “red dragon fruit” fresca, que fue una de las frutas mas ricas que he probado en mi vida. Dejamos el area de Homestead con la panza llena, y el corazon contento ya que no solamente conseguimos que los granjeros aceptaran nuestra invitacion de participar en el mercado, sino tambien nos hicimos de mas amigos.
Unos dias despues, vi “dragron fruit” en el supermercado. La compre, esperando que fuera como la que probamos con Farmer Bob. Ahi fue cuando me di cuenta la diferencia entre una fruta recien arrancada y otra que ha tenido varios dias de transporte y refrigeracion. El sabor es incomparable.
El mes de Julio y hasta ahora, nos enfocamos en obtener mas vendedores de productos que consideramos son acordes con la idea del mercado: verde, natural, organico y sostentible. Visitamos todos los mercados que podemos para aprender como operan e invitar a vendedores que encontramos interesantes.
Cuando les cuento a mis amigos que estoy coordinando un mercado “Farmers Market”, me preguntan “y que vas a ganar?” Entonces yo me sonrio y les contesto “absolutamente nada”. Solamente comida saludable, fresca y sabrosa. Aprendi tanto solamente de las experiencias vividas durante este viaje que empezo en febrero. Me vasta con saber que gracias a mis esfuerzos, la comunidad del Doral va a tener acceso a frutas, verduras, vegetales y productos naturales. Pienso que el mero hecho de que la ciudad de Doral tenga su propio Farmers Market es una indicacion visible de su compromiso con su ciudadanos de avanzar un paso mas adelante a la meta de ser una ciudad “verde” de verdad.
La aceptacion official de nuestro mercado ante la Ciudad sera el 14 de Octubre durante la reunion a las 1:00pm. Esperemos que todos los lectores puedan asistir y demostrar su interes y apoyo.

Countdown to Saturday!

Very mixed emotions... I've not been able to sleep for 3 nights! And, I have the feeling that after the roller coaster ride that today was, I won't sleep much tonight either.
I'm excited, anxious, mad, worried, upset, feel betrayed, used, confused, happy, sad, frustrated, out of control... and yet, I know good things are coming our way on Saturday. I don't know how, but deep down I know this "project" will be a success. Not without a lot of very hard work...
Very challenging few days... and lots more challenges to overcome, I'm sure. But, integrity, honesty and positive energy will carry me through.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carlos had 1,000 flyers (4x6 postcards) printed this weekend. I'm so excited to see them come to life! Take a look:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Application approved!

The city Council members, mayor and vice-mayor of Doral approved our application for the Farmers' Market!
Everyone enjoyed our 5 minute presentation and they watched it attentively. Once we were done talking about the benefits of eating locally, and defining food as "don't eat anything your great grandmother would not recognize as food" (by Michael Pollan), Matthew gave a 2 minute quick speech on his support of the market. We answered a couple of questions, and then they unanimously voted YES.
Now the wheels will run faster than ever in our efforts to get everyone on board all coordinated and ready for our Grand Opening on Oct. 31st.
Tomorrow, we will attend a Community Health Fair to promote the Market. It's on NW 82 Ave and 36 Street in Doral. It will be an outdoor event from 4 to 8pm. There will be lots of free goodies from the sponsors and lots of healthy information. Stop by and say Hi! We are having great weather now that the rainy season is almost over.
-- Andrea
P/S: Paula, I wore my "power" dress! :-)

Monday, October 12, 2009

We made it on the front cover of Doral News!

Get your copy! We are on the front page and the article is on pages 10 & 11.

DFM's first radio interview on Actualidad 1020 AM

This Saturday, Carlos Abad and I visited the studios of Actualidad 1020 in Coral Gables. Radio show host Carlos Herradez conducts a news radio show about the city of Doral every Saturday from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. So, there we were, right on time! I thought we looked pretty funny, each of us with headphones on and a big foamy microphone right in front of our noses. There were lots of electronic equipment and we sat around a tall table with tall chairs while Carlos H. introduced the show and his guests. Carlos A. and and were both very nervous, and I'm sure you could tell if you listened to the show! I'm trying to get the recorded version so I can link it to this blog and you too can listen to it.
But, in spite of our jittery voices, radio host, and his producer Andreina made us feel right at home from the get go.
All along, radio listeners were calling and asking when and where the market would open. It was a very nice surprise that the phones kept ringing and Andreina kept giving out information.
It was really a neat experience. Carlos H. asked a few questions regarding how the idea came about. Some radio listeners were asking about solar energy and Carlos A. did a good job explaining the basics of solar panels.
See you all on Halloween day!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We'll be on the FRONT COVER!

Yes, Doral Farmers Market will be featured in the front cover of Ciudad Doral Newspaper in both English and Spanish versions! Look for it tomorrow all over the city of Doral. Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

We realized that Mansi and I did not have a picture together. So, here we are. It was improvised and the lighting was all wrong, but, I just wanted you to see who we are. -- more later.

We need your support on Oct. 14th.


NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 1:00
p.m. the City of Doral City Council will hold a Council Zoning Meeting. The
Meeting will take place at the City of Doral, City Hall Council Chambers
located at 8300 N.W. 53rd Street, Suite 100, Doral, Florida 33166.

The City of Doral complies with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities
Act. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations or assistance
should call the City of Doral at (305) 593-6725 of such need at least 24 hours (1
days) in advance.

Barbara Herrera
City Clerk, City of Doral