Catalyst Interview Series: Michelle Gomez

The Frenchtown Farmers Market has grown immensely since it re-launched in 2014 thanks to the efforts of KCCI Catalysts and growing community support. shellyAs part of our ongoing Interview Series, we caught up with former KCCI Community Catalyst Michelle Gomez to chat about the importance of the Frenchtown Farmers Market to the historic Tallahassee neighborhood.

KCCI: Tell me a little about your relationship with KCCI.
MG: I applied for the 2013-14 class and began training October 2013. I couldn’t have picked a better time to come back to Tallahassee and find out about KCCI because we had the benefit of the work that had been done and the support that had been built by the preceding Catalyst classes.

KCCI: How did the idea for the Frenchtown Farmers Market come about?
MG: Our project was a little bit different than the other ones in our class because the Frenchtown Farmers Market actually began in 2011. It wasn’t something that we “made up” but it was something we wanted to improve. The goal was to establish a weekly, sustainable and permanent marketplace in Frenchtown. We knew we had to support the temporary market in order to get our idea going.

KCCI: What type of impact did KCCI have on the Frenchtown Farmers Market?
MG: Originally, the market was intermittent at best, changing locations frequently. Understandably, it was difficult for people to know where it was going to be or if they were going on the right Saturday. In 2013, there were three or four vendors and an average of 36 people in attendance. With the help and input of community organizations, we re-launched the market in April of 2014 with 10 vendors and paid staff. In order to do that, we had to raise money, design market rules, and market to the vendors and customers. The market grew to about 130 weekly visitors and 20 vendors representing five counties. Fifteen months after the project began, the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) purchased a property for the market’s permanent relocation.

KCCI: What’s a food desert and how does it relate to Frenchtown?
MG: “Food desert” is a USDA term that defines an area where people have low access to fresh foods. The places in Frenchtown where people could shop for food were the Family Dollar or the corner store and mostly what’s available there are canned goods, sodas and chips. However, there’s a growing urban farming movement in the area. In fact, Frenchtown has always been an agricultural community. Historically it’s one of the most fertile areas in the city. The farmer’s market came up in order to address access to fresh food and to provide an economic opportunity for local vendors.

KCCI: How did your work with KCCI influence your professional life?
MG: The advisory board is amazing at assembling an extremely professionally diverse group of people. Once you finish your project, you have connections with likeminded people across many industries. I’m originally from Tallahassee, but I spent five years in Oakland, Calif. One of the greatest things about the Bay Area is that you don’t have to sell the idea of community engagement. For the most part, I didn’t feel that was the case here in Tallahassee. When I returned in 2012, KCCI had changed that. I came across ads for KCCI and I felt like they were written just for me! KCCI is unique in that, yes you’re volunteering, but you’re also creating something. You’re creating what you want this city to be.

KCCI: What are some of your favorite spots in Tallahassee?
MG: I love Old St. Augustine in the spring – when the azaleas are blooming that road is unreal. Cascades Park is awesome, I take a walk around when I need to think or cool off. Gaines Street is pretty miraculous, too. What happened there was transformative. Of course, I also love Frenchtown. Frenchtown is beautiful and it’s not always understood that way. The people that we’re working with in Frenchtown have been doing this forever, and I think that beauty has always been there.

KCCI: Who should consider becoming a KCCI Community Catalyst?
MG: Everybody! If you have an idea that you want to see happen, if you have the desire to improve your community, if you see a need and you need resources, you should apply. KCCI is a place for doers from various walks of life. One of the strengths of KCCI is the diversity of its Catalysts and its entrepreneurial spirit. If you have ideas in those regards, you should apply.

The 2015 market season launches Saturday, April 11 in conjunction with National Public Health Week. The Greater Frenchtown Marketplace & Heritage Hub is expected to launch summer 2015.