The market debuted in April on Saturday mornings at Broad Rock Park (2401 Broad Rock Blvd.), but it switched to Monday evenings in August because that turned out to be a busier time at the park, with baseball and softball games, says Teddy Elliott, secretary of the Club de Comerciantes (Merchants Club) of Virginia. Although the market is nearing the end of this year's season, the funds will be used over the next two years, she says.
In applying for the grant, La Plaza was aided by the city of Richmond and the Enrichmond Foundation, a nonprofit umbrella organization with a mission to support parks, recreation and cultural arts.
Information from the USDA announcing the awards says that the funds will be used to enhance La Plaza’s viability “by professionalizing the market management, recruiting Latino and African-American vendors, and providing healthy food and lifestyle promotions for the low-income food desert community served by the market.”
Chris Johnston, organizational grant coordinator for the city, says the funds are needed for startup costs such as buying tents for vendors and a generator to provide electricity, hiring a market manager, developing a business plan, promoting the market, and doing outreach to disadvantaged farmers who could benefit from selling produce there.
Elliott adds that the funds will also be used to offer fitness and food-preparation classes. “We want La Plaza to be a community place where people can come eat, exercise and get educated,” she says. “For the community, of the community.”
Plans for next year are still being developed, she says. The market will continue to operate at Broad Rock Park, but it may also coordinate with the 17th Street Farmer’s Market in Shockoe Bottom. La Plaza also received approval to begin accepting food stamps.
A “Friends of La Plaza” group established through the Enrichmond Foundation accepts tax-deductible donations of materials, equipment and funds to help the market. The Sacred Heart Center is also working with La Plaza to provide a shuttle service to and from the market for residents who lack transportation.
This year, there were several regular vendors — one with produce such as peppers, tomatoes and fruit; a shaved-ice stand with tropical fruit flavors such as tamarind; a jewelry maker; a seller of Guatemalan crafts; and La Milpa restaurant, which sold prepared foods. Additional vendors are interested in participating if the customer traffic picks up, Elliott says. “We have five to 10 in the wings.”
Other USDA grant recipients in Virginia include: