Emory Farmers Market, Start: ME Provides a Place for Microenterprises to Thrive | Emory University


On a windy afternoon, long lines overflow from McDonough Plaza. The smell of fresh food hangs in the air, tempting the palates of passers-by. The Emory Farmers’ Market is in full swing, offering everyone the chance to taste food from Cuba to Syria, while supporting local businesses.

Emory Farmers Market is a program co-managed by the Office of Sustainability Initiatives and Emory Dining. In 2008, they launched the market with the goal of providing the Emory community with the opportunity to purchase local food. This aligns with the strand of Emory’s vision and strategic plan for sustainability to achieve the university’s goal of purchasing 75% locally or sustainably grown food by 2025.

“Emory’s sustainability initiatives are holistic and require us to navigate what is necessary to simultaneously address the climate crisis, pandemic and racial inequalities,” says Taylor Spicer, co-director of the Farmers’ Market Emory and Deputy Director of the Office of Sustainable Development Initiatives. “Sustainable development solutions must therefore be intersectional, informed by history, informed by place and shaped by current challenges and opportunities. We strive to do this through the Emory Farmers Market.

Today, Emory Dining has allowed students to use their “Dooley Dollars” to make purchases. With 20 vendors selling everything from honey and produce to baked goods, the market serves the goals of supporting local producers and reducing energy consumption caused by transporting food.

Support for local entrepreneurs

Some of the food vendors at Emory’s Farmers’ Market have grown under the Start: ME Accelerator, a program of the Roberto C. Goizueta Business & Society Institute at Goizueta Business School, serving local businesses in five employees or less. During the three-month program, business owners gain hands-on business training, such as how to develop a workable business plan; access to a support network of entrepreneurs; and funds to help develop their businesses.

Since its founding in 2013, Start: ME has served over 300 microenterprises, which have created over 500 jobs and generated over $ 11 million in annual revenue.

“It’s so amazing not only to meet but also to see these entrepreneurs grow personally and professionally while following the Start: ME program,” says Alina Bills, Start: ME Program Manager. “These entrepreneurs support themselves, their families and the needs of their local community; and it is an honor to support them throughout their journey.

Start: ME was born from the work of Professor Peter W. Roberts on microenterprise development and how to “make markets work for more people in more places”. He wanted to recognize and address the knowledge, network and capital gaps faced by people-led microenterprises in underserved communities. To that end, the program now focuses on three different communities in the Atlanta metro area: Clarkston, East Lake, and South Atlanta.

“When we launched the Start: ME program, we knew that cultivating links with the market is critical to the success of entrepreneurs,” says Roberts, who teaches organization and management and is also the academic director of Transparent Trade Coffee and Grounds for Empowerment. “Connecting our alumni to Emory Farmers Market is another way to connect with potential customers. “

“Incredibly beneficial”

Josh Westover reinvented his business, Bake-N-Jam, with help from Start: ME. That day at the Emory Farmers Market, he wears a green t-shirt with the words “cookies & gravy” on the front. On the menu, it offers a variety of fresh breads, cinnamon rolls, bagel sandwiches and sweet and savory scones.

After several years as a baker at some of Atlanta’s most beloved restaurants, including Empire State South and Eugene Kitchen, the COVID-19 pandemic has left him grappling with uncertainty. With restaurants closed and his passion for baking still strong, he had to find a way to continue supporting his wife and two children.

“Without Start: ME, and without participating in the program, I wouldn’t be as far as I am,” says Westover. “What has helped me the most is the drive to really know who our ideal clientele is and to really flesh out our vision and mission. These were things we had thought about, but we never got them. There has also been an additional wave of support with Goizueta and Start: ME, placing bulk orders and advertising for us on social media without being asked has been incredibly beneficial. .

Start: ME also gave Khadijah Muhammad the opportunity to try something new. She already has a successful bakery business called Kay’s Cookies, but after her father Habeeb passed away, she wanted to find a way to honor him. In 2018, she launched Habeeb’s Gourmet Sauces, which currently includes honey mustard, lemon pepper and tangy wing sauces, as well as spicy and sweet versions of the farmers market favorite honey braised sauce.

She takes pride in using natural ingredients and grows ginger and garlic for sauces herself. His goals are to expand the line to include salad dressings and see his sauces on the shelves of local stores.

“The networking has been so invaluable,” says Muhammad of the Start: ME program. “Once the program is over, there are a lot of activities for alumni. The program mentors and other business owners have been great in connecting us with resources, which is even more beneficial than getting the grant.

Student-led sustainable food fair

In addition to the Emory Farmers Market, the community can also engage with local vendors at the upcoming Sustainable Food Fair on October 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Asbury Circle.

At this annual event, students in the Sustainable Food Fair credit course, co-taught by faculty member Spicer and Simona Muratore, educate their peers on sustainable and just food production. They also invite some of the Start: ME businesses, campus and community restaurants, farmers, food advocates and student groups to participate in the fair.

“The Emory Farmers’ Market and Start: ME program seek to connect the Emory community and our collective resources with local farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and artisans whom we can support and build relationships with,” explains Spicer.

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