Food shopping in other neighborhoods can be frustrating, plus it takes a great deal of planning and time management; leaving little room for spontaneity. I feel compassion for those who live in food deserts and lack access to fresh and healthy food. Here’s an example of how two people changed their food game by sourcing fresh and local groceries for themselves and their surrounding community.
One afternoon while preparing lunch, I realized we were out of coconut milk. I remembered a friend telling me about Bed-Stuy Fresh and Local and their opening weeks prior. I left the house carrying with me, my bag and super low expectations. However, I was happily surprised. They actually had the coconut milk I was looking for plus many other goodies and plenty of produce. I asked if the owner was around. He was. His name is Dylan and he would be happy to do an interview with me. He was too crazed to respond to questions via email so we set up a time to chat in person. I’m glad we did because I got to witness the warm interactions between Dylan and his customers.
As I walked in the shop door, I found it ironic that the song, So Fresh, So Clean by Outkast was playing. A sublime introduction for my interview with curators of fresh and local produce. Dylan and I sat in the makeshift booth behind the salvaged window panes then began talking:
KLA: Hi Dylan, thanks for agreeing to chat with me. Tell me about Bed-Stuy Fresh and Local. What inspired the opening? How long have you been open?
DR: I’ve been living in the neighborhood for six years. It’s a great community, I dug in early on … it’s a nice place to live. I moved to NYC 9 years ago and lived in various neighborhoods until I came here and got settled. I love the community vibe and my neighbors but there was never any where to buy fresh produce. No one wants to have to drive to another neighborhood to buy food or produce, you know?
KLA: Yea, I typically shop when I’m in the city or in my old neighborhood which is why I was happy to hear that you opened.
DR: Sheila, my partner, and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about opening a store. Sheila is co-owner, my partner, and my girlfriend; we live together. Her last name is Akbar. After working in the film industry for 8 or 9 years, I was burnt out … then the company I worked for got bought out and we all got laid off. Sheila was like, you should open up that store you always talked about. That was that. We opened on December 23rd of last year. A pretty funky time to open, the day before Christmas eve when every one has already shopped; and most people are broke (laughing). But the first week wasn’t bad actually, we had a little buzz going on before opening and everyone was psyched. People would stop by to see what it was all about … the winter has been pretty dismal but despite this, things are good.
KLA: Would you say this place is a market, bodega, or event space …?
DR: It’s kinda of all of that. We wanted to make a grocery store but we also want it to be a community base where the neighbors can socialize. The most important thing was for us to have produce, we wanted a variety of produce, and locally produced products too. We obviously carry common goods that people use day to day but we are passionate about offering a platform for local artisans to sell their goods.
KLA: Like what? Can you name a few local products you carry.
KLA: What about the books? Do you sell those?
DR: We have a lending library– bring one, take one. Or you can leave a few bucks in the tip jar for a book.
DR: It’s very important because I’m a human (smiles) and I need it to keep my body moving. The fresher, the better, the healthier it is, the better I will be. That is my direct relationship with food. In terms of cooking… it’s really… I don’t have aspirations to be a big chef, I like to cook. I like to cook for me … I’m not trying to win any cooking contest. Right now, I cook out of necessity because we don’t have a chef.
KLA: What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable?
DR: Avocado, hands down. I will put it on anything, or just enjoy it by itself. I was raised in California, how could my answer be anything else?
(Since Sheila wasn’t there, I sent an email asking her for her favorite)
SA: Mango! My family is from Bangladesh and I have very fond memories of eating sweet and tangy mangoes there as a kid.
KLA: Do you have a business food philosophy?
DR: The name says it all … fresh and local. We carry organic products but in this country, even that comes with some skepticism. Just because it says organic, doesn’t mean that the farm is not using destructive environmental practices … besides organic certification is expensive. It’s more about the relationship with the farms. We worked with Ridge Produce, a distributor, just to get the doors open. And we’re planning to work with Phillips Farm in NJ. and we’re talking to a few community gardens where we would love to buy the surplus of produce left over so that they can fund some of their initiatives … we would also like to create an employee-owned enterprise … that’s the end goal. We’re just getting things going now. It’s about giving people access but I don’t want to interject my political views into the store, it’s more about the community.
KLA: What are your hottest selling items at this time? What’s in your shop?
DR: Gustavo’s Salsa is pretty popular. We also have a lunch counter with sandwiches and pizza which seems to be working. And, the produce like kale and carrots. We also sell fresh baguettes, croissants, and gluten-free bread from Tom Cat Bakery. Oh, we have coffee too which is great.
KLA: Almost done, what’s in store for BSFAL this summer? Would you like to say anything to your customers?
DR: Yes, we want to hear from you. We are all about transparency. Any feedback or input is welcomed. We often have sales on produce, tasting parties using some of the local ingredients. classes, events, demos, and other events involving our neighbors. Everything in the store is on wheels to accommodate events.
KLA: What makes you happy?
DR: Being alive, my neighborhood, my job .. waking up, opening, spreading good vibes, meeting new people … that makes me happy.
KLA: I noticed you play good music at the store. Name one of your favorite songs.
DR: Adore, by Prince. He is my favorite artist and this song happens to host my personal favorite vocal phrase of his (right after the bridge when he goes SUPER high and affectionate).
SA: Tough one! maybe Got to Give It Up by Marvin Gaye. I can’t resist it.
Thanks to Dylan and Sheila for their courage to start a new business, and for their time and energy. I look forward to getting to know them and watching Bed Stuy Fresh and Local blossom and bloom. The store is open every day from 9am to 8pm. Hours will increase as it warms up!
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Hugs and Healthy-ness,