The city won the first round against the vendors at the Greenpoint Food Market, but the war has hardly been won.
On Saturday, market organizer Joanne Kim held a think tank potluck to discuss the market’s future, after city health officials threatened to slap summonses on the vendors of the 10-month-old marketplace of indie edibles.
Vendors, market hopefuls and fans gathered to listen to a panel nine experts discuss the market’s future, including Sam Miller of the Department of Health, Greenmarket founder and state Department of Agriculture administrator Bob Lewis, Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) and Mombucha’s Rich Awn.
If the market is to continue, the city will require all vendors to obtain food-handling certificates and temporary food establishment permits — as well as produce their wares in a commercial kitchen, an often-costly feat, especially for vendors who Kim said, “do not participate to make money, but only break even.”
The panelists discussed everything from insurance to how to obtain permits and licensing, but the most buzz-worthy topic of the day was the possibility of a new, potentially city-subsidized incubator kitchen — a kitchen space where vendors could rent commercial kitchen space on the cheap.
For many vendors at the market, such as panelist Joshua Kace of Slantshack Jerky, the market serves as an incubator itself, helping them test products for low start-up costs, before investing heavily in the time and money it takes to create a viable food business.
Lewis and Miller both pledged the support of city and state agencies in finding a solution to the problem –albeit one caused by the city in the first place.
“We really are working to figure out a way to encourage entrepreneurship, while at the same time maintaining the bottom-line for the Department of Health,” said Miller. “We’re trying to be accommodating as possible and we’re open to new ideas — that’s why we’re here.”
Awn, for one, is determined to find a solution whether the city comes through or not.
The kombucha guru plans to start his own incubator kitchen of sorts — a 2,500-square-foot hybrid market and commercial kitchen on Franklin Avenue, where vendors can purchase a share in kitchen space for a mere $100 per month, and sell their goods in a front market space. The idea is still in the planning stages, but Awn said nearly every vendor at the market pledged interest and support for the space.
“We’re not holding our breath for regulations to change. I know we’re going to have to roll over and do everything we can not to get fined,” said Awn. “We’re going to have to do this by the books.”