"It's about having fun, celebrating the city and providing access to and education about fresh fruits and vegetables," says Tom Kerr, the market's committee chairman and an advocate of the Food Circles Networking Project of the University of Missouri's Outreach and Extension program. "It's not a white market or a black market; it's an urban market. It's not a rich market or a poor market; it's an urban market. These things should be at the top of any understanding of what's happening here."
Kerr says approximately 15,000 people live in the market's immediate vicinity, "30 percent of whom live at the poverty level, and 64 percent have incomes below $20,000 per year. And while there are convenience stores where you can get fast food or bologna and white bread, there's not a single location where fresh fruits and vegetables are available."
He notes that part of the market's intent is to provide information "about how to use that good food and how to empower people to live better by eating better.
"If we can't help people approach eating properly with more fresh vegetables and less starches," Kerr argues, "then we're almost morally corrupt. As opposed to real estate agents trying to make money, let's develop the people rather than the property levels."
Kerr's comment to other members of the Troost Corridor Community Association is none too subtle. But fellow TCCA member and real estate appraiser Allen Norman seems to share Kerr's sentiments about the mood of the market. "The best thing I see is the sense of community," Norman says, "where you'll see a white lady from west of Troost sitting down and visiting with a black lady of the same age from east of Troost -- just two people sharing their lives. If people stand on separate sides of a street and look at each other, that doesn't accomplish anything."
Though Norman says the market "was never planned to be nor do we foresee it becoming a money-making thing," it took a few bucks to get it started in 1999. "The Kauffman Foundation was very good to us, providing seed money to start it up," he recalls, noting that the donation was "an example of the synergy that's working."
In addition to providing locally and regionally grown fruits and vegetables, market vendors offer such arts and crafts as perfume and candles, accessories from "the scarf lady" and artisan Melba McFadden's cloth dolls. Norman says his wife still wears a homemade dress she bought there last summer. City not-for-profits such as Associated Youth Services and the Jackson County Nutrition Network also plan to set up booths, and Kerr says that sense of community is part of what gives the Troost Community Market its unique sensibility.