“I live in Crown Heights, so this is my hood. I’ve been here for ten-plus years. I’ve seen lots of changes but still no farm-fresh food,” Sadatu Usman tells me as she arranges the kale on her sidewalk table. “I was tired of having to travel [to find it].” she concluded.
Usman decided to take matters into her hands earlier this year and created Milly’s Market, a pop-up farm stand where she sells fruits and vegetables that she sources from farmers in Upstate New York. Her mother, Beryl, bought a home in the Catskills in 1992, and she and Sadatu have forged relationships with local farmers over the years. As Usman got older, she realized she could both serve her community and satisfy her desire for fresher ingredients by transporting and selling the farmers products in underserved neighborhoods.
Growing up in a Caribbean household, Usman’s mother always made sure there were plenty of fruits and vegetables. She traveled to farmers markets in other neighborhoods and would bring back fruits and vegetables after every visit to their Upstate home.
This past summer, Sadatu created her first pop-up farm stand in Bed-Stuy and it was an immediate hit. She sells in front of Daily Press coffee, and they now commission her to make sandwiches and other grab and go items for the shop. With such positive feedback and successful sales, she decided to expand. She now sets up shop in Crown Heights (Thursdays), East New York (Saturdays), Brownsville (Tuesday) and posts up at Daily Press in Bed-Stuy on Fridays.
Her selection of produce is a combination of what the farmers have available and what her customers request. “I make those decisions purely based on [the public] and things that are coming in new for the season. I’ll test it out. If it’s not working in a week, I don’t get it anymore, but I make things out if it. If I don’t sell all the tomatoes, I make gazpacho soup,” she says. In the beginning, Usman intended her business to be a holistic health marketplace that combined bath and self-care products as well as food. Customers gravitated towards the food, and eventually she shifted her focus entirely to produce. “Sometimes things don’t manifest the way you had envisioned, so you gotta listen to what the public wants.”
In Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, she says, “I see people always loving the tomatoes, the kale, the eggs, the peaches the carrots. People are really into juicing right now so they love the carrots and the beets. People live for these scallions; they don’t really see them like this.” In East New York, tastes slant somewhat differently. “I don’t bring the gazpacho there because they are not into that,” she remarks. “I make homemade icees with the peaches; they love that.”
With winter approaching, Sadatu hopes that people will visit her website and pre-order using a credit card. As it gets colder, she’ll start delivering to customers in her neighborhood, but her hopes to continue her pop-up farm stand through Thanksgiving. Future plans include more grab-and-go items such as seasonal soups, cold-pressed juices and sandwiches like local herb-roasted turkey with homemade sour cherry aioli and Delchego cheese.
She’s also going to create a catering menu for her website and hopes that one day she and her mother will be growing enough produce on their Upstate property that they will no longer have to outsource everything. “We want to cultivate [fruits and vegetables] ourselves, and maybe bring kids from the inner city to come and get their hands in the dirt,” she tells me. “It’s three hours away — not that far from the city, but far enough to get some fresh air.”