Originally published on September 18, 2014
Rumbling echoes of the subway surround the air, as customers from East Harlem and the surrounding neighborhoods swarm to four, wood-paneled fruit and vegetable stands underneath the Park Avenue elevated trains.
It is a warm, Thursday afternoon in August and the outside breeze disperses an aromatic, tangy scent from the layers of oranges and baskets of berries smushed together on one of the fruit stands. A young, Hispanic male sporting a backward baseball cap and a blue tee-shirt sits behind a small fold-up table with a locked cash box, a medium-sized scale, and a bundle of plastic bags scattered around the brightly colored, plastic floral tablecloth. He watches the customers as they peruse the produce and he offers to help a man put fresh, Gala apples into a plastic bag.
For 21-year-old Brooklyn native Adrian Rosado, El Barrio Youth Marqueta of East Harlem provides an opportunity every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday for him to drastically change and improve his life by building management skills, customer service skills, and life skills.
“It’s more than just selling produce,” says Rosado, “My work as a cashier at the market since July has proved to my kids and my kids’ mom that I am trying to be somebody in my life.”
Rosado says his connection to “Litefeet” street dance crews and local gang members on the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens during his adolescence and early adulthood led him to three different prison sentences at Rikers Island and Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn.
Charged with two non-violent cases of reckless behavior for dancing on subway trains with his dance crew and one violent case of reckless behavior for “being in the streets,” Rosado says, “the longest sentence I did was almost a year in the federal prison and that changed my life. I had to change after that.”
In the last year, Rosado joined Union Settlement in East Harlem, an on-the ground resource and advocate center for the needs of those in underserved communities. Through the Youth Services program, Rosado earned his GED and landed a job at El Barrio Youth Marqueta for the grand opening in July 2014.
The father of two children, ages four and two months, says, “I went from negative to positive. I find this [job] positive…I didn’t have my father in my life so I didn’t want that for my kids. I really love this job.”
Under the supervision of director of 25-year-old Santos Rivera, five young adult males from East Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx work and run El Barrio Youth Marqueta every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“We work with the youth so that way if they are at risk, they have a brighter future, a brighter aspect and outlook on the future; instead of feeling that they are trapped in the neighborhood so they can feel like they are gaining valuable skills,” says Rivera.
Modeled after Greenmarket Farmers Markets of New York, El Barrio Youth Marqueta opened on July 15, 2014 with the mission to provide fresh, high-quality regionally grown farm products to New York City communities and to “train young people from under-served areas of the city to operate a farm stand in the neighborhood as their own small business.”
Loyal customer and East Harlem resident Thomas Hirschelmann visits the market every week and says, “the community is finally doing something to positively benefit the people and the youth.” Hirschelmann believes for young, struggling employees like Rosado, “they have a bright future that succeeds the marketplace, but they must be given opportunities and right now this is their only option.”