The Greenpoint Food Market has been getting lots of buzz lately, first for being an underground, DIY food market in a church (theChurch of the Messiah)basement with over two hundred vendors making homemade, edible treats for sale and consumption, and then because the New York Times wrote an article about the market that, while endearing, brought the under the radarness of the GFM to the attention of the city, putting the market on hold.
Last fall, Joann Kim was baking a lot and couldn’t find the right environment in which to sell her goods. She wasn’t sure she was ready to “go legit” because she didn’t know if she had a viable product or not. Kim dreamed up the GFM, a place where she and other first-time sellers could have a space to test out their products, something in between a lemonade stand and a restaurant for vendors who ultimately want to start their own food businessesbut haven’tyet figured out whether or not they have what it takes to movethings to the next level. Kim says of her original vision, “I just wanted to run this dinky, small, cute little food market once a month. That’s it.” She was not expecting what came instead.
In order to be able to sell food for profit, there are requirements that need to be met. For starters, you have to work out of a commercial kitchen, get product liability insurance and takea food handler’s safety course in order to become licensed. Only many of the vendors at the GFM hadn’t taken these steps at all, either because they weren’t aware of them, or because costs can get expensive when you’re a small, indie operation. But why should the vendors of the GFM be different than everyone else?
What Kim is searching for is a happy medium, and this past Saturday, June 26 she began a dialogue around trying to obtain one. Kim organized a think tank at the COTM in place of what would have been this month’s market. She talked about what she would like to come of this meeting, “I want there to be some sort of policy that makes [selling]more accessible for small-batch food vendors because the only kind of existing codes and regulations pertain to big restaurants and big wholesale batches, not small vendors.”
Kim doesn’t know exactly what they will come up with, but if the roster of players that showed up to speak at her forum is any reflection of the seriousness of this joint effort, then the GFM might be in good shape after all. Among the panel speakers wasCity Council Member Stephen Levin, Chief Marketing Representative of the NYSDept. of Agriculture andMarketsBob Lewis, Assistant Commissioner for Intergovernmental Affairs at the NYC Dept. of Health Sam Miller, Hot Bread Kitchen founder Jessamyn Waldman, Mombucha master brewer Rich Awn and, of course, Kim herself.
The group brainstormed on stage in front of a crowded room full of eager vendors and curious neighbors. Surprisingly, there were a lot of answers. Waldman spoke about La Marqueta, a shared commercial incubator kitchencurrently being built in Harlem that Hot Bread Kitchen will provide training for. Awn spoke of a GFM cooperative kitchen he would like to start in order to provide a cheaper, more feasible solution to smaller vendors who need it.Other possibilities mentioned are testing products by sampling them off, borrowing someone else’s commercial kitchen, and there is always just sucking it up and making a commitment to go through all the necessary steps in order to become certified.
Rebecca and DanielDengrove of Brewla Barswere at the GFM the other afternoon, exotic tea meets natural fruit ice pops in tow; last Saturday was supposed to be their GFM debut. The Dengrove siblings face an entirely different problem than most GFM vendors. Rebecca explains, “The paperwork that people were mentioning as a big obstacle seemed to be one of the easier things we had to overcome. Our biggest challenge stems from the fact that we are frozen.” They have found a temporary solution that allows the Brewla Bars to be made, and though it may not be ideal, they wouldn’t have a product without it. Rebecca adds, “It wasn’t easy but I feel like we have an amazing product and I wasn’t willing to give up.”
The next GFM is scheduled for July 24. Hopefully there will be more vendors like the Dengroves there, fully equipped and willing to invest.