Can a food market bring a fragmented community together?

“I was studying abroad in Argentina,” says Caroline Myers, Communications Coordinator for Marketshare. “My Spanish skills weren’t very strong and my host mother made a big dinner for me for my birthday. I was really homesick. I was turning 21. I didn’t have many friends.

“My host family had a house out in the country and they took me there and prepared the most delicious meal, an Argentine Asado (barbecue), for me. It was the best meal I had while I was there. The best part had to be the dulce de leche ice cream covered with bananas.

Photo Credit: Caroline Myers

Caroline Myers | Photo Credit: Caroline Myers

“I remember feeling like I was a part of the family. Everyone was so happy and laughing … for the first time I felt at home in a different country. I’d never felt that welcomed in someone else’s home.”

But let’s take a step back…

Marketshare is a non-profit, building an international food market in Seattle that will empower food entrepreneurs from immigrant and refugee communities.

“The inspiration for [Marketshare] came from our founder’s travels in Asia… there’s a specific market called the Hawker’s Center, commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia… tons of stalls of chefs with limited menus. We envision bare boned stalls for our vendors… a sort of open-air indoor space.”

You may be noticing my clever use of tenses… while Marketshare has run a successful and educational pilot program with 2 vendors, Jackie and Rosario, they’re only just gearing up for the actual market.

“Seattle is an incredibly diverse city that currently feels very fragmented and segregated.” The folks at Marketshare are hoping to combat that by creating “an all inclusive community space where people can come together over food.”

Jackie | Photo Credit: Marketshare Facebook Page

Jackie | Photo Credit: Marketshare Facebook Page

“We feel very strongly at Marketshare that food is this way of connecting with other people. It’s a language of itself. In my experience traveling, often the way I’ve first found commonality with people or understood their cultures has been when I’ve been sharing a meal. In Seattle there are opportunities to try some different types of cuisine, but there is a significant number that is not currently accessible. Many of these communities and ethnic groups have home-style cuisine that they’re not sharing with people outside of their homes. Food is a means of connection the perfect vehicle for cultural dialogue.”

Marketshare will provide a physical space for the market, and help selected vendors with the initial startup costs associated with a food stall. By forming partnerships with other community-based organizations and companies, the organization plans for the market to be the hub for budding food entrepreneurs.  Vendors at Marketshare will have access to different kinds of business training, culinary training, advertising, technology, branding, help hiring staff and help navigating licensing and permitting.

Intrigued? Me too, fortunately Caroline shared that they “hope to be making some big announcements about space in the next 2 weeks!” which can only mean that soon Seattle’s 98118 zip code will have an international food market I’d certainly like to check out.

Thanks for chatting Caroline!

Follow along with Marketshare as they grow on their site, facebook, twitter or instagram.

If you’re interested in other organizations that work with refugee and immigrant populations, helping them find a livelihood and a voice in America through sharing their food traditions, check out Hot Bread Kitchen, League of Kitchens, La Cocina and The Portland Marcado.