“Just show up and be there,” was the first lesson Sade’ Perkins says she learned when she launched Freedmen’s Town Farmers Market in Houston, Texas with the vision of eliminating a food desert in Houston’s oldest African American neighborhood. It rained the night before her grand opening and she didn’t know if she could pull it off. But she persisted, and last year brought an estimated $250,000 in economic activity to her community.
For creating an essential business that supports the health of her community while also helping other small businesses grow, Nav has awarded a $5000 grant to Freedmen’s Town Farmer’s Market in Nav’s quarterly Small Business Grant Contest.
Starting From Scratch
One of the youngest businesses to win the Nav Small Business Grant, the Freedmen’s Market was started in November 2020. Launching during the pandemic, Perkins used her own funds to start the business, bootstrapping all the way.
“We started the market with minimal capital and have managed cash flow on a week-to-week basis,” she explains. “This has made it challenging to invest in things like marketing, trademarks, and other things that will allow us to grow the market. The Nav grant will help change this dynamic,” she says.
Freedmen’s Market serves a unique role in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Not only does it bring healthy food to the community but it also supports other small businesses looking for places to sell their produce and other culinary products. A few local artisans and crafts business owners participate as well. “We’re feeding people in a food desert while incubating small businesses and getting fresh organic produce and products to people who can benefit the most from them,” says Perkins.
The seed for her idea was planted when Perkins’ car broke down and she was unable to get to the grocery store without a long walk or paying for a ride share. Though the area in which she lives and runs her business is close to downtown Houston, for those without reliable transportation, it can be a world apart.
Perkins is now bringing healthy food to her customers, and has noticed that the social aspect of her business is just as important as the products it sells. “This area is gentrifying,” she says, “and I see people who want a place to get together.”
One of the major perks of running her own business has been the opportunity to spend time with her teenage sons. (She and her partner are raising their two 14-year-old sons together.) “I love being able to make my own schedule and run a full business while being a stay at home mom,” Perkins says. “I’m home when my kids get out of school and that’s very rewarding to me. My business has given me the flexibility to still be a mom while servicing a great need in my community.”
Perkins says it’s been a challenge to find and retain quality vendors. She’s had to move locations and is contemplating another move. In the meantime, she plans to use the proceeds from the grant to form an LLC, get a professional website and cover some of her weekly operational costs such as porta potty rentals.
As Perkins shares her dreams for her business, she adds this one: to preserve Black food ways. She shares the example of oxtail, a traditional Southern food whose cost has become generally prohibitive. Not at the Freedmen’s market, though: one of her vendors, a farmer who raises meat locally, continues to make it available at an affordable price. She also wants to write a cookbook that helps preserve traditional recipes.
Perkins fully expects the funds from this grant to create a ripple effect: “We will be able to expand our CSA (community supported agriculture) program and continue to work to incubate small businesses,” she says. She goes out of her way to cultivate opportunities for her vendors, recommending them to local grocers and other outlets. She’s also looking out for her customers, and recently received SNAP approval, making the market available to a wider audience.
On opening day, Congressman Al Green showed up to provide recognition and cheer on the business. A year later, his office again recognized the business for its service to the community. It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication that Perkins and her vendors have been able to thrive despite the economic challenges of the past couple of years.
Freedmen’s Town Farmers Market is a small business making a big impact, and Nav is proud to award it a $5000 Nav Small Business Grant for the fourth quarter of 2021.
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