How a Farmer’s Market on Wheels Is Changing the Game for Black Farmers and Communities

collage of Prosperity Market photos

Photos courtesy of Prosperity Market

Prosperity Market travels throughout Los Angeles with the goal of providing healthy, locally sourced food to all communities.

In the United States, where you live can massively impact what level of access you have to fresh, affordable, and healthy groceries. What’s more, a startling percentage of our population experiences food insecurity every day, with many working Americans unsure of what or when their next meal will be. 

This is where Prosperity Market comes in.

Prosperity Market is two things in one: A farmer’s market on wheels and a rotating food truck. Founded by Kara Still and Carmen Dianne, the market features Black farmers, food producers, and chefs, and it travels throughout Los Angeles with the goal of providing healthy, locally sourced food to all communities, from the tip of Malibu all the way to down to Compton.  

The mission of Prosperity Market sits squarely at the intersection of so many challenges our country faces right now. It addresses the food insecurity that millions of Americans face every day (over 24 percent of people in Los Angeles County alone), and it also addresses the racial and class disparities that determine which communities get access to fresh food and which do not. They aim to take on these monstrous challenges in a beautifully simple way: By physically bringing healthy, affordable groceries into underserved communities, and by exclusively sourcing that food from Black farmers, growers, and chefs. Through this, they will directly invigorate the economies of the communities that need it the most.

At a time when less than 2 percent of farmers in the agriculture industry are Black and there are seemingly no Black-owned national grocery chains, Prosperity Market isn’t just working to provide healthy and affordable food to communities that traditionally haven’t had that access — it’s also working to upend racial disparities in farming and food supply chain industries across the board.

We spoke with Still and Dianne about how they went about building Prosperity Market, what it’s like navigating the small business world as two Black female founders, and more. 

Let’s get the origin story, first: What inspired you to take the leap and start this business?

CD: Well, we were friends first, but what inspired [Prosperity Market] is that over quarantine, we were witnessing everything that was happening. And we were really trying to figure out ways to circulate the dollar more within our community. I think the most jarring stat I really just couldn’t wrap my head around is that $1 stays in the Black community for six hours. And we’re seeing this huge push to support Black businesses, which is great, but how sustainable is that if you know the dollar leaves a community in six hours? 

So we were really just talking about that a lot, and trying to figure out what we can do, and we discovered the connection with food because we don’t have any regional or national chains of Black-owned grocery stores. We have mom-and-pop stores here and there, but there’s a Ralph’s on every corner, and there’s a Trader Joe’s on every corner — there’s a chain on every corner. So we were wanting to explore what it could look like to have a Black option. And you know, that’s a big goal. That’s a big task. So we figured let’s start with a farmers market. And then we were like, oh, that’s also a big task!

KS: Out of all the businesses that closed during the shutdown, 41 percent were Black-owned. That’s the highest number of business closures of any other group. So we were trying to figure out how we can really, economically make a difference to begin to support Black entrepreneurship, and also look at the very thing that all of us need, which is food.

So you had the idea for the farmers market. What was your next step?

Carmen and Kara, the founders of Prosperity Market.

CD: We were first looking for farmers and we literally could not find any. They’re either down south on the East Coast or in California, they’re in the Bay Area or they’re in Fresno. So we had to kind of redefine what we considered a farmer and we started to find urban farmers, community gardens, and backyard growers.

KS: They’re already feeding so many people, but giving them additional outlets allows them to grow more and also shines a light on the fact that just because you don’t have the acreage doesn’t mean you’re not a farmer.  

The stereotype of farmers markets tends to be that they’re really expensive and for a very white demographic. Have you experienced this stereotype, and how has it impacted your work?

KS: Yes to all of that. That is definitely a barrier in our communities. Not only are farmers markets stigmatized and really kind of subliminally exclusionary, but also grocery store chains are exclusionary. So you can go to an area that has a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and then you go to another area that might only have one grocery store within a 15-mile radius. So we take that into account, not only with the energy that we bring and the atmosphere that we create but the fact that no matter what neighborhood we’re in, we deliver the same quality service, the same great farmers, the same experience no matter what. 

What you’re doing is so singular in the food space right now, and I’m sure that leads to confusion from time to time — what do you wish people understood better about what you’re doing?

CD: We’re retailers, so we’re selling products for those farmers. So we’re not just building our own business — we’re expanding the reach of those farmers, we’re saving them time. Then, they can go work at another farmers market or they can do what they need to do to support their expanding business. In doing that, we’re creating jobs and everyone’s growing. And what that does for the local economy, especially once we’re able to accept snap and EBT, all of these things just stimulate our economy on the most local level. It’s widespread, like a ripple.