Jalissa Horton of Chef Jalissa Culinary Co. has been cooking since she was 13 years old. Growing up in the Federal Way area, she would transform her kitchen into a restaurant to serve family and friends. Specializing in soul food with a Pacific Northwest twist, Horton’s fusion shines in her signature meals such as a braised chicken topped with chimichurri sauce and Cotija cheese.
Before renting out kitchen space at Tukwila’s Spice Bridge food hall, where she caters and provides virtual culinary classes, Horton began her entrepreneurship at farmers markets. As a vendor at Pike Place Market and others around Seattle, Horton showcased her food to people from throughout the world.
Last month, she returned to her roots as a farmers market vendor for the first time in over a year at the inaugural South Delridge Farmers Market, where she was joined by a range of Black vendors and people of color selling their goods. The market will return on July 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the courtyard of Hope Academy, 9421 18th Ave. S.W., to serve culturally relevant food that the area’s refugee and immigrant communities can’t find at most local farmers markets.
Located in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-designated food desert — an area where at least a third of the population lives more than a mile away from the nearest large grocery store or supermarket — the South Delridge Farmers Market will run on the second Saturday of every month from June to November. While other Seattle neighborhoods are one-half mile from supermarkets, South Delridge and a part of Highland Park are the only areas in the city where some residents must travel over a mile to the closest large grocery store, according to the USDA Food Access Research Atlas.
“It’s really important that that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] area gets the support it needs from businesses. So having a market out there where they’ll be able to have fresh products and to be able to use their Fresh Bucks and SNAP [food benefits], I think it’s amazing and I’m really happy to be out there,” Horton said.
People of color, people with lower incomes and people who identify as lesbian, bisexual or gay are more likely to report difficulty locating healthful food in Seattle, according to a local 2019 Healthy Food Availability and Food Bank Network report.
“Food deserts is for sure a piece of the pie, but not the whole story,” said Elizabeth Kimball, manager for the Healthy Eating Active Living program at Public Health – Seattle & King County. “It’s not just proximity, but it’s affordability, it’s also the availability of it, the cultural appropriateness of it,” Kimball said.
The Delridge food market aims to provide culturally appropriate food by featuring BIPOC entrepreneurs and providing interpretation services in languages including Somali and Arabic, said Rachel Perlot, the food access director at African Community Housing and Development (ACHD), which hosts the farmers market. Since many of the vendors are bilingual, customers will be able to buy food from people who are familiar with their culture’s cuisine.
“With the loss of the West Seattle Bridge, food access in the area has gotten even trickier,” Perlot said. “The White Center enclave, South Delridge area has a really diverse population and a large African immigrant and refugee community as well, so those folks have historically been left behind by food access.”
What makes the farmers market unique is that ACHD arranges the permits and other logistics for vendors, which can often be a complicated process. Unlike other farmers markets, entrepreneurs participate in the market free of charge. To further support vendors and reduce food waste, ACHD buys leftover products at the end of the day and distributes them to older adults.
Four vendors sold goods ranging from baked goods to jams and jellies at the first farmers market, which about 300 people attended and sales totaled $3,300. The organization gave away 36 bags of fresh produce to families facing food insecurity. In future markets, local produce from gardens and farms will be sold.
“Everyone was saying that we needed a farmers market in the neighborhood and it was really exciting to see one,” Perlot said.
Up to 13 vendors are expected to join the July farmers market, where local and federal food access programs such as SNAP benefits, WIC, SNAP Market Match and Fresh Bucks will be accepted. ACHD gives children spending money to help them practice buying fresh food, and sold $575 in goods through their voucher program last month. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, customers ate food off-site at the first market, and it remains unclear whether customers can eat on-site during the July event.
“It’s hard enough to access fresh, healthy and locally sourced food, but it’s even harder to access culturally relevant food,” Bilan Aden, ACHD’s associate director and co-founder, said. At the June market, for instance, sisters Adama Jammeh and Oumie Sallah at Afella Jollof Catering served authentic Senegambian food, which included chicken dibi with jollof rice, vegetarian and beef samosas, African crispy doughnuts and groundnut cakes.
The inception of the farmers market came during a 2019 community cafe meeting led by youth in ACHD’s urban garden program. During the student-led meetings, youth talked about food justice in the South Delridge neighborhood and learned that local residents had difficulty obtaining fresh foods; stores or markets weren’t in walking distance.
ACHD reached out to funders about a pilot program for a farmers market and received about $72,000 from King Conservation District, around $100,000 from Albertsons Companies’ Nourishing Neighbors, and about $25,000 from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. The six-month program will serve as a feasibility project to determine if the market should run more often, and how it can be improved in the future.
Having sold at many farmers markets in the area, Horton said her favorite one was last month’s market in South Delridge. Customers emailed her afterward to share how much they enjoyed her peach cobbler, sweet potato pie and pound cake topped in strawberry glaze. Children were thrilled to use their vouchers from ACHD to buy her chocolate chip cookies. She sold out of everything that day.
This month, Horton plans to sell some of the same desserts as last month, along with empanadas with collard greens and sweet potatoes; blueberry and strawberry lemonade; bento boxes with sweet potato hummus, celery, carrots and Indian flatbread; as well as kale pesto and grilled chicken sandwiches.
Throughout the summer she’ll introduce different pie flavors. She’s proud that she got in on the ground floor of the market and is serving the South Delridge community.
“My hope is that we can continue; that this will be a market that can withstand whatever’s next,” Horton said.