August is Black Business Month; an annual event started in 2004 by Frederick E. Jordan and John William Templeton. Its purpose is to support Black businesses through awareness and how they contribute to their respective markets.
This awareness is crucial; three months into the pandemic in 2020, 41% of Black businesses crumpled, the most out of any other demographic. Many people felt the effects firsthand and watched their communities struggle to provide.
Others, like Kara Still and Carmen Dianne, felt the need to do something was too strong to ignore. So, they created Prosperity Market, an all-Black farmers market. Everything, from specialty products to produce vendors, is Black-owned, operated and ran. Prosperity Market is also mobile, doing pop-ups in different parts of Los Angeles each month.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The idea came to Still and Dianne during the beginning of the pandemic. “Grocery stores are shutting down in our communities, creating food deficits. Looking at that, we realized we don’t have any Black-owned grocery stores, and we don’t have any Black farmers market,” Dianne says. “We really examined that and tried to figure out why that is.”
The conclusion was that they needed more Black-owned businesses, specifically essential businesses. “We, glaringly, saw food as the answer to that,” Still says. “There’s a Ralph’s or Trader Joe’s or grocery stores on every corner except in our communities. We witnessed a big push to support Black-owned businesses, so we thought, ‘Ok, this is what we need to do.’”
Still and Dianne began developing the idea in June 2020, which involved tons of research into an unfamiliar world. “We researched everything: how do you start a farmers market, we learned the history of Black farmers just to understand what happened, learned about food intentionality, food deserts, about starting a business, period. Do we need to be an LLC? Are we a nonprofit? There was just so much to learn. And still to learn,” Dianne shares.
A harsh lesson they quickly learned was not everyone believed in their ambition. The entrepreneurs planned on purchasing a giant trailer that would be part food truck and part produce market and visit Black communities and others who were suffering from food deficits.
However, Still said bringing their market to life was the first setback. “From the beginning, we wanted to be a mobile farmers market to be able to take all of the goods and produce around, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, in Los Angeles,” she says. “The first challenge, in the beginning, was realizing we were not worthy candidates to getting funds for our trailer.”
Seeing the Vision
Still and Dianne met and became friends in their home state of Maryland. They ended up in Los Angeles separately; Dianne went into the beauty and entertainment industry while Still worked in retail and fashion. While their respective careers gave them knowledge and expertise in their fields, lenders and banks were not confident those skills would translate well into their new venture.
- Keeping it in the Family: Sisters Leslie and LeAnn Jones Open Inglewood’s First Wine Bar
- Peanut Farmer Elisha Barnes Honors Family and Land with Pop Son Farm
“Our lack of experience, background and our young business minds in these things did not make people throw money at us or banks say, ‘Here’s money to do your vision,’’ Still says. “So the first challenge we faced was how do we create traction and prove this idea is worthy of being recognized and funded?”
They turned their lack of funding lemons into lemonade and decided on a pop-up marketplace. Initially, the pop-ups were not in their plans, but Still said it was so well-received that they stuck with it. “It was just proof of what we were doing what the communities wanted and it’s valid. That was a really big thing.” The next step was to find Black farmers, which was another hurdle, although not a difficult one.
“There are not many Black farmers,” Dianne says. “So we had to reevaluate what we considered a farmer, and that’s when we started finding urban farmers, backyard growers, and community gardens. Once we made that switch in our minds, it was easier to find vendors.”
When they began talking to farmers and vendors, the women were pleasantly surprised with how many of them were quickly on board. “We shared our visions and what we were building, and they were all thrilled,” Still says. “It is a testament to the missing space of desire; despite our lack of experience, people were excited to create a Black farmers market with Black vendors.”
The First of Many
The duo had their first farmer’s market at the Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, on February 27, 2021. The L.A. Times released a piece on Prosperity Market a week before, which Still says helped. They also reached out to friends, community partners they met through connections, used social media, flyers, and word-of-mouth for marketing and drumming up interest. “We said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,” Dianne says. “‘If you support the idea, share it.’”
One benefit to doing pop-ups that they did not foresee was how they were able to smooth out issues and help the Black vendors on a personal and professional level. Since the first pop-up was a success, Still and Dianne reassessed what future ones would look like, where they would go, and how will they make it work.
“We saw all of these hurdles for the permits and locations,” Still says. “And additional difficulties the farmers and vendors had to face. It would have looked very different if we had started with the trailer. We had the opportunity to see many more hurdles up close and in person because we’d been doing in-person pop-ups.”
These hurdles include the excessive amount of paperwork Los Angeles requires for any and all permits and also just simply giving opportunities to Black-owned businesses in a world where they still face discrimination.
“It is very complicated, and that's why what we are doing is so important because there are so many barriers for Black farmers, urban farmers, small farmers,” Dianne says. “It takes a lot for them to get into a farmers market, so we saw quickly how important the service that we’re offering is. We’re bridging that gap.”
Still points out that early on in their planning and talking to vendors, she was surprised with how many people they connected with, who had been doing this work, who didn’t know each other. “There’s a space for us to all find each other and connect and realize, ‘I’m not alone in doing this,’” Still says. “For people like Carmen and I, there’s a new trajectory that has gotten people into some form of agriculture or community service and things like that. We’ve even connected with people in different states who are doing their own farmers market.”
On the website, Prosperity Market says its mission is “to transform our local ecosystem and our economy through agriculture, food access, nutrition education, and community partnerships.” Prosperity Market does this by also being a launching pad for vendors who can network among themselves and the community. The exposure brings awareness to their business, generates sales, and helps to level the field in and out of their communities.
“We've been from Compton to Malibu and everywhere in-between,” Dianne says. “We’re going into our communities that don’t have grocery stores, or farmers markets, or healthy food affordable alternatives. Then, we want to talk about all of our incredible products and businesses to let everybody know about these companies and enjoy their services. That’s why we go everywhere. Everyone should be able to enjoy our vendors.”
Black Business Scavenger Hunt
This year for Black Business Month, Prosperity Market is hosting its second annual Black Business Scavenger Hunt that started at the beginning of the month. “We are coordinating with all of these businesses and creating the material in how everything works,” Dianne says. “There are over 50 businesses and clues for each business that we put out on our website, along with an interactive treasure map. You can click on the clue, see where it is, and get directions on the map. There is also a word bank on the website in case anyone gets stuck.”
For every business visited before August 25, participants will receive one point when checking in at each business and scanning the in-store QR code to take a picture. Extra points will be given for purchases made at participating businesses, taking a photo of a Nipsey Hussle mural or BLK NWS exhibit at a participating business or attending the special events that include the anniversary celebration at 1010 Wine and Events on August 21 and a wine tasting with the McBride Sisters on August 26.
Rules also include posting pictures on Instagram tagging @prosperity.market and using the hashtag #PMbizhunt2022. Photos can also be mailed to email@example.com.
Participants can also email photos with their name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. The finale of Black Business Scavenger Hunt will be at Prosperity Market’s pop-up on August 27 at the Obama Sports Complex where participants can claim their prizes.
What’s Next for Prosperity Market?
“Stay tuned,” Dianne says. “There is so much intention in everything that we do, and we have big visions and big plans.”
Still adds, “We have so much gratitude and love for all of the people that are supporting us; all of our vendors, all of the communities. Thank you to everyone who believes in what we are creating.”
For those who can’t make it to the locations, Prosperity Market offers a virtual market during the week leading up to their pop-ups; the next virtual market will be August 22 through August 26.
Follow Prosperity Market on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. A list of vendors is on the website and orders can be made through it as well. Prosperity Market still needs help! Want to offer yours? The Road to Prosperity is a way to show support.