Meet The Immigrant Small Business Owners At UDC’s Farmers Market

Tamales cooked by Doña Rosa. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown by Omar Flores and José Luis López. Watercolors by Anny Calderón, necklaces designed by Martha Leuro, empanadas cooked by Diana Torres, cream punch by Paula Rodríguez, and soaps by Anette Casiano-Negroni.
These are just some of the products that you can get at the UDC Van Ness Farmers Market, every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., May through November.
With the arrival of winter, between a mariachi band and a Venezuelan cuatro, these small farmers and entrepreneurs said a (temporary, seasonal) goodbye to the outdoor market in an event sponsored by the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association (NLFRTA).
For 13 years, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) has given them a space in the affluent Van Ness neighborhood. It is a good springboard for anyone who wants to try their luck selling products before opening a store, a food truck, or a restaurant.
Doña Rosa, the owner of Tamales Doña Rosa who also sells traditional Oaxacan mole made with 32 ingredients.Milli Legrain / El Tiempo Latino
All the products sold here have a special touch. The traditional Oaxacan mole that Doña Rosa sells has 32 ingredients, three different chilies, and is made in clay pots over a wood fire. “It’s not made in a factory,” she insists.
Despite the pandemic, the cold, the early rise, and many hours spent standing the vendors say its worth it to see the long lines of customers interested in their wares.
“COVID raised awareness in this type of local market. It is a healthy and even educational experience. Children can be outside, and see whole fruits and vegetables and learn where they come from,” says Raúl Medrano, who teaches workshops for small entrepreneurs at the Carlos Rosario School in Columbia Heights and has his own family business, Café Medrano.
Many of the small farmers and entrepreneurs have adapted to the pandemic and succeeded.
From left to right: Ana Mejía and Rudy Arredondo from NLFRTA, with Teresa Ramírez, master of ceremonies at the closing event.Milli Legrain / El Tiempo Latino
“Immigrants are very resilient,” says Medrano. “We are used to getting by with little and adapting. And there are opportunities,” he adds.
One of these successful entrepreneurs is Diana Torres, a teacher who came to the United States from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in 2016. While working in a restaurant two years ago, she decided to start her own Venezuelan food business: Na’guara con Sabor Venezolano. She learned to take orders and have them ready for pickup. She also provides catering for events and home deliveries.
Another is José Luis López of Mexico. Although he spent years building fences, 12 years ago he became a farmer in Westmoreland County, Virginia. When the pandemic hit, he and his wife feared that sales would fall. But they were shocked.
“It was much better last year than any other year before. And this year was better than last year,” López says. Strawberries and blueberries are their best sellers.
But not everything has been easy. Some sellers confess that they are concerned about the recent rise in prices. Doña Rosa says the cost of the chicken breasts for her tamales with green sauce has increased “by half.” And according to Omar Flores, the price of fertilizer has risen “by 40 or 50%.”
Mariachis Jorge Anaya were in charge of musical entertainment.Milli Legrain / El Tiempo Latino
Rudy Arredondo, president of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association (NFLRTA), who has been advocating for small farmers in the United States since 2004, warns that the drought in California’s Central Valley is a problem for small farmers. Some foresee that perhaps 30% of their land will have to be sacrificed due to lack of water.
He is also concerned about the debts that some farmers have with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and that aid to farmers during the pandemic has mostly gone to larger farms. He also highlights that the decayed infrastructure in the country is an obstacle for farmers to market their products.
But he does not lose hope. This veteran activist learned working with Cesar Chávez that “Yes, We Can.”
Meanwhile, at the farmers market, Omar Flores enthusiastically greeted each of his customers, who lined up to buy radishes and carrots of different sizes and colors. In exchange, he offered them five apples or lettuce as a gift. He also wished them a happy winter — though it came a little early—even a Merry Christmas.

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