Floreciente is one of Moline’s historic downtown neighborhoods and its largely Hispanic population is home to many aspiring entrepreneurs – including both storefronts and home-based businesses, such as making enchiladas and tamales, or selling sports accessories. Unfortunately, economic and cultural barriers have limited the capacity for these entrepreneurs to accomplish their dream of starting a business. These barriers include language, unfamiliarity with how to learn which government regulations apply, not having the capital to start a storefront, and limited time to devote to their business because of a day job. When Global Communities began working in Floreciente in 2015, these conditions highlighted the importance of creating incubator spaces and other opportunities for community members to test and explore new business ventures.
Around the same time, a firm that owns property on the border between the Floreciente neighborhood and Moline’s downtown district, was evaluating different options on how to develop this space – which is right near the soon-to-be opened train station. After discussions with the City of Moline, members of the neighborhood, and other stakeholders, such as Global Communities, the firm opted to use their property to host an evening market, modeled after those around the world. The Mercado on Fifth would serve as an outlet for local entrepreneurs and small minority-owned business owners as well to address the limited access to healthy food in the Floreciente by hosting farmers to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
The 2016 season lasted nine weeks and served as an opportunity to test out the Mercado’s viability and its capacity to generate a positive impact on the way the neighborhood was perceived to the greater Quad Cities. In addition, more than 50 different vendors and nonprofits participated in the Mercado – which proved to be a great way to showcase the cultural richness of the Floreciente neighborhood and provided entrepreneurs in the neighborhood with a larger audience to sell their products. Flourishing Communities worked closely with the Mercado and participating entrepreneurs to provide assistance understanding and meeting the state and local financial and health regulations required to participate in the Mercado, such as obtaining a tax ID and getting their food preparation licenses. With attendance ranging from 250 to 500 people each week, depending on entertainment, the Mercado finished their first successful season and organizers needed to consider their future.
Flourishing Communities stepped up to provide assistance to the Mercado because its market is an important community development opportunity for the neighborhood. Global Communities’ assistance to the Mercado and its vendors falls under three general categories: assistance to vendors, tutoring on food sanitation tests, and organizational development assistance to the Mercado organizers.
To build off their assistance in year one, Flourishing Communities expanded assistance to vendors from setting up tax IDs and required licensing – to developing a series of “how to” guides that the Mercado could also distribute to new vendors. Global Communities also serves as a liaison between the city health inspector and vendors to translate “policy speak” into “everyday language”, as well as English into Spanish when necessary.
Flourishing Communities also began helping vendors prepare for food sanitation tests by working with the Mercado and Black Hawk Community College to offer a food managers class and associated testing in Spanish; attending these sessions to provide assistance to the instructor as necessary; and organizing tutoring sessions for vendors before they take the test, as many are unfamiliar with standardized testing.
Finally, as the Mercado continues to grow, Flourishing Communities has provided continuous organizational development assistance in a variety of areas. At the end of the first season, Global Communities helped the Mercado establish an advisory committee made up of representatives from the city, vendors, and other interested stakeholders. At the beginning of the second season, Global Communities worked with the Mercado to develop tools to capture and track data that can help better inform long-term decision making and attract further support from vendors and stakeholders in the community. Finally, Global Communities funded a grant to purchase event equipment, which would reduce the event’s operational costs by not having to rent tables, chairs, tents, and street barricades every week. Equipment purchased with this grant, serves as a revenue stream for the Mercado, who rents it to local nonprofits for their events at a fraction of the cost they would have to pay a commercial dealer.
As the 2017 season comes to a close, Flourishing Communities will continue to work with the Mercado and vendors and begin to create a long-term strategy for the Mercado to expand beyond a volunteer run event into something more permanent, including maybe a physical structure. Continuing this support is important as the Mercado has been lauded for its ability to effectively promote the Floreciente as a welcoming place in the Quad Cities, and providing valuable opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs who could not have marketed their products without the Mercado.
Funded by the John Deere Foundation through May 2018, the Flourishing Communities program is working in Floreciente to create long-lasting, community-led change by organizing and educating residents and business owners to participate in community and economic development decisions affecting their neighborhood. For more information on our programs in Moline, Illinois contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.globalfloreciente.org