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

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