By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — After moving to Los Angeles from Maryland nine years ago, Carmen Dianne, a makeup artist, and Kara Still, a fashion designer, became distinctly aware that a food desert existed in South Los Angeles.
Concerned, the two friends conducted research and discovered that there were only 91 grocery stores in all of South Los Angeles to service its population of 820,000, which equaled one store for every 9,025 residents.
“African Americans don’t have any national or regional Black-owned grocery chains,” Dianne said. “We knew we wanted to create an economic impact in the community.”
They also discovered that food insecurity is not only a local but a national problem.
“There are 23.5 million citizens who are experiencing food insecurity in America,” Dianne said. “Here in Los Angeles, there are 2.6 million Angelenos experiencing food insecurity.
“That means that there are over two million people in the city that do not know when, how or where their next meal is coming from or don’t have enough to eat,” Still added.
This all happens in California, the largest agricultural producing state in the country that generates $54 billion a year from the fruits and vegetables grown here.
“So we grow the most food, but we have the most food insecure people,” Dianne said.
They were also concerned that a dollar stays in the Black community for only six hours even though statistics indicate that African Americans generate $1.2 trillion in buying power per year.
“We wanted to figure out a way to circulate the dollar longer and keep money circulating throughout our community,” Still said.
The two friends brainstormed and came up with the idea to start Prosperity Market, a mobile pop-up farmer’s market.
“The idea for Prosperity Market came to us while the pandemic was happening,” Dianne said.
“When we were trying to come up with a name for a market, I told a friend, ‘We need a name for the market,” said Dianne, the CEO and co-founder of the market. “Close your eyes and envision what you want the market to be.The first word that came to my mind was ‘prosperity.’ That’s how we came up with the name for Prosperity Market.”
To get the market started, the two friends received financial help from the Fund Black Founders social impact fund which provided a $25,000 grant.
“Fund Black Founders also helped us with mentorship and crowdfunding training to help us crowdfund better,” Still said.
“We are also fundraising to buy a trailer,” Dianne added. “We have raised $105,000 and this is our final week of crowdfunding. We are trying to raise an additional $15,000,” she added.
Each month, the mobile market travels to different locations in Southern California. So far, it has made stops in Crenshaw, Compton, Inglewood, Mid-City and even as far away as Malibu.
“We have such loyal customers,” Still said. “We’ve met customers in Compton and then when we had our next pop up market, they followed us all the way to Malibu.
“Each month we sell an array of fruits and vegetables including greens, squash, tomatoes, onions, kale, berries and exotic fruit,” Still added. “The prices are affordable and the produce is always of high quality.”
The duo also have a five-day virtual market Monday through Friday where customers can order produce through their website.
“We have several pickup stations in Los Angeles,” Still said. “We also have monthly food produce distribution and free produce giveaways in and around South Los Angeles.”
The two friends also regularly network with local Black farmers.
“Black farmers across the country sued the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] in 1997 because they were denied loans that they needed to run their farms,” Dianne said. “They won and it was the largest civil rights settlement in U.S. history. They were awarded $1.2 billion, but it took the government 10 years to pay out the funds and many Black farmers were given loans too late which led to foreclosure on their land.
“In the state of California, there are 69,000 farmers but only about 430 farms are owned by Black farmers,” Dianne said.
“We have non-traditional farmers working with us,” Still added. “They don’t have the acreage that USDA-supported farmers have, but they are still able to grow a lot and feed a lot of people.”
Still added that local farmers grow their produce on smaller plots of land.
“We give our small farmers, our urban growers, and our community gardeners the opportunity to feed the neighborhood and the people around us,” she said.
“As a mobile farmer’s market, we provide a platform for Black farmers to give them an opportunity to grow and expand,” Dianne added. “So they can sell in our farmer’s market and we can take them all over Los Angeles and beyond as we expand.”
“One of the things we definitely wanted to address in terms of creating an economic impact is helping not only Black farmers as an economic platform but also Black business,” Still said.
The two business partners hope that providing fresh produce will help to mitigate the various health problems that plague the Black community.
“We know that the Black community leads with lots of preventable illnesses,” Still said. “It has the highest rates of diabetes and high blood pressure. Those things we suffer from most are preventable and eating more fruits and vegetables could help our health problems if we make alterations to our diet.
“We absolutely plan to bring more nutrition education to the community,” Dianne said. “We want to have cooking demonstrations and share the information in a fun way. But it’s going to take us more than just showing up with kale.”
Prosperity Market will hold its next pop up market at the South L.A. Beehive, 1000 E. 60th St., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 30.
Prosperity Market can be reached at www.prosperitymarketla.com. The crowdfunding site can be accessed at fundblackfounders.com/prosperity market.