Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Young & Green: Chealsea Sells Summer Squash ("Those Aren't Bananas!")

You’re reading Young & Green, the group blog written by participants of GrowNYC’s Youthmarket. This network of urban farm stands is operated by neighborhood youth, supplied by local farmers, and supplies communities throughout NYC with fresh fruits and veggies. Pretty cool, huh?

Meet GrowNYC Youthmarket SUPERSTAR Chelsea Dow

We asked her 22 questions about her time managing the NYC Youthmarket!

Please describe your overall impression of working as a Youthmarket manager

Being a Youthmarket manager requires stamina, dedication, and a love for the diversity and complexity of NYC. As a manager, I quickly learned to think on my feet and be ready for anything that came my way – whether that is a rainstorm, fussy customer, or a staff no show. Learning to handle these on the spot dilemmas prepares you for future endeavors, both in a professional sense, as well as in your personal life. Working at the Youthmarket made me both a strong and dedicated worker but also a patient and understanding human being.

What did you find most satisfying about this job?

Working as a Youthmarket manager is an opportunity to explore many facets of food justice in NYC, and when you realize you are a necessary part of this thriving and diverse food shed, the feeling is humbling and empowering. What I think is the most essential part of the Youthmarket program is that we work in food deserts, neighborhoods that have little to no access to fresh and local produce. When we would set up our market, especially in the beginning of the season, the excitement in the neighborhood was overwhelming. Customers came in massive groups and were ecstatic to see corn, fresh fruit and vegetables, and local products such as honey. As the season went on you got to know your customer base and develop relationships, learning about different customer’s health concerns, culinary ideas, or just their lives in general. Making these relationships and connecting with the diverse range of customers, while providing the neighborhood with fresh and local produce, was by far the most satisfying part of the job.

What did you find least satisfying about this job?

The least satisfying was definitely the weather. Working in the summer in 100 degrees on concrete for upwards of 12 hours was incredibly exhausting. Then add an opinionated and overheated staff, some rude customers, and a produce shortage… definitely made for some interesting days!

Which market do you work at (or did you work at)?

Lower East Side (LES), Kensington, Ridgewood

How long have you worked for Youthmarket?

I’ve worked for Youthmarket for one season – and I loved it!

What’s the funniest or the most interesting thing you’ve overheard at the market?

Where to begin!! There were many funny, interesting, and crazy things I overheard on market days. I found our more comical and interesting conversations always came from the senior community that is present at the LES Youthmarket. One day I caught a woman taking all of the corn husks out of our compost, and when I asked her what she was doing, she said she boils the husk to make a tea for her digestion. On another day I also overheard one of the youth at the same LES market asking one of his peers where to put the bananas – it was a case of yellow summer squash!

Has the market changed what you eat? In what ways?

I’ve always maintained a healthy and whole food diet, so going into Youthmarket I already had a solid base as for my own nutrition. As a vegetarian, I mostly ate greens and fruits anyways. I did become a much bigger fan of beets, which previously I had not been a big fan of. Even more so, I fell in love with their greens. Beet greens are now a staple in my diet – and I’ve turned a lot of my friends onto them as well.

Do you cook at home? If so, what’s your favorite easy meal to make and how long does it take?

I’m a serious at home cook! Cooking is a huge stress reliever for me, as well as a creative outlet. I cook every single meal with intention for nutrition, creativity, and of course taste. One meal that I always fall back on when I’m stumped on what to do is a play on lasagna – but with just vegetables, herbs, and goat cheese. I layer summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant, basil, spinach, and goat cheese in a deep baking dish and bake for about 35 minutes (until the vegetables are cooked through). You can switch up the cheese depending on what you like – but I find the goat cheese makes it extra creamy and delicious!

Do you cook for your family members? If so, for whom? How often?

When living in New York City I cooked for my roommate almost every night, she would get home late from work so I would make us dinner. Back at home in New Jersey my mom and I like to cook together – we make some really inventive fun dishes, lots of hearty stews and fresh salads.

What do they think about your cooking?

I hear good things! I also make my own granola which my friends are big fans of.

Has the market affected your future job plans? How?

Definitely! Previous to working at the Youthmarket I knew I wanted to work in the urban agricultural world; whether that was through urban farming, working at markets, or farm to table hospitality I wasn’t sure. Now my eyes have become much more open to what’s possible – specifically in working with youth. I think engaging the youth makes the community stronger; citizens are educated and inspired, and overall that makes for a more sustainable community.  Working with youth this market season has shown me how much a young group of people can have an effect on a neighborhood. Now I am much more inspired to work with youth in an urban agricultural setting.


Has the market affected how you interact with people?

I think one of the most fascinating things about working a Youthmarket in New York City is the vast array of customers that come by. Listening to peoples stories and making these connections with people, with whom otherwise I would have most likely never met, has made me a much more open minded and honest person. It has also taught me many lessons on patience – and that is something I have definitely taken away with me!


What have you learned about dealing with nasty weather (super hot or cold or rainy or windy)?

Always read the weather report and double prepare – if they say cold, bring two pairs of socks! If it rains – bring lots of waterproof clothes!! And if it’s going to be brutally hot – there is no such thing as too much water. I learned all of those the hard way.


What about dealing with tough customers?

As we are in New York City – you know everyone is open to loudly giving their opinion! Many customers came by the Youthmarket in a rude or abrasive manor. The key to engaging with these customers is to be both understanding and light hearted. I learned that most people don’t want to be outwardly rude, and if you show them kindness back, a lot of times it’s contagious. And for the customers who were truly just having a horrible day and taking it out on us, once they were gone, if you have a light heart and can laugh it off, it just makes for another adventure in the day.


What’s the most important question you think customers at the market should ask?

A question I think that is always important to ask is “how is this produce grown?” Many times customers are upset that some of our produce isn’t certified organic, and it is an important topic to discuss. Many farmers practice organic farming principles but do not have the certification. Therefore, it is important to ask not “is this organic” but “how is this produce grown?”


What’s your favorite fruit or veggie that you tried for the first time while working at the market?

Kohlrabi was a foreign produce item to me that I learned to enjoy. During a cooking demo at the market we made mashed kohlrabi and potatoes, and I became a big fan of its broccoli-esc flavor. And although it wasn’t my first time having radishes when I came to Youthmarket, I fell madly in love with them during this season. Chopped radishes with tomatoes, cilantro, olive oil, and salt & pepper became my Youthmarket ritual. 


What’s one you’re not crazy about?

Turnips and parsnips… not a fan!


What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about working for Youthmarket?

Have an open mind to working in communities that may be unfamiliar to you, and working with personalities that are new to you. Youthmarket brings in such a vast array of people – from corporate bankers, to senior citizens, to the homeless. It’s important to keep an open mind and understand everyone is curious about the same thing – where and how to buy fresh produce. Every story is special and every customer makes the market that much more unique, even the rude ones! Be ready to dive head first into the craziness that is New York City, and be rewarded with stories and relationships that will last a lifetime. I would also remind them that though working outside is a great counterpart to office life, it can be also be very stressful. It is a job for those who can think on their feet and not be deterred by nature’s sudden rain storms.


Do you have any hobbies?

Many! Cooking, going to concerts, yoga, hiking, camping, traveling, reading, and anything having to do with animals (especially my dog).

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