Tyler Manley is one of three members on the five-member Massachusetts Avenue Project staff who majored or minored in philosophy.
How did his University at Buffalo degree prepare him for his job?
“How did it not?” he says. “Not only are we creating a local food system, growing food right in the city, we're changing how people think about food.”
Manley, 25, grew up on a sheep farm in Ossian, outside Dansville, and cooked at Flour City Restaurant, once owned by his father, Jerry, in Rochester. He started as an AmeriCorps worker in 2010 at MAP, an urban farm that is helping to redefine nutrition on Buffalo's West Side, and became the Mobile Market director for the nonprofit last year.
MAP shares a headquarters with PUSH Buffalo in the Grant Street Community Center, but most of its work takes place at its “barn” at 389 Massachusetts Ave., where an agricultural program for teens, called “Growing Green,” flourishes.
The farm – the equivalent of 11½ city lots – sits across the street from a park, alongside a vacant house, and is home to a rain catching system and 41 hens. More than 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown on the grounds and in a pair of greenhouse sheds, one of which is aquaponic and contains 25,000 tilapia.
“We sell the fish to the community, alive and whole,” Manley says.
What is your job?
To plan all of the sales of our food from the farm. We go to four different sites around the city every week: ELIM Christian Fellowship, 70 Chalmers Ave., from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays; Albany and Herkimer streets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays; Neighborhood Health Center, 155 Lawn Ave., 3 to 5 p.m. Fridays; and outside the Growing Green barn from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
Because we can't sell on public property, we sell on private property and make partnerships with these sites. I'm in charge of having contact people for every site and telling them each week what we're going to have, doing the marketing for each location. I do the marketing here at our stand. So I price the food, I do all of the record-keeping. I do market education. I teach salesmanship to teenagers. We teach target markets, entrepreneurship, starting your own business, one-on-one sales, how to greet customers. We also do cooking classes with the kids and I do education.
I make it known that I know how to cook everything that we sell five different ways. People think they don't like vegetables, they just might not like how it was cooked.
How many different languages do you hear spoken?
A lot, definitely. We have kids from Africa. We have Burmese, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia, a lot of Spanish, too. It can be crazy. For instance, one of our mobile sites is across from a refugee English-as-a-second-language school. The teachers, for projects, will ask their kids to come to me and ask how much certain things are. I'm always so surprised at how much you can get through with hand motions, pointing, counting the currency.
What are the popular sellers?
Things that people recognize. They know what tomatoes are, they know what green beans are, they know what apples are, lettuce. In certain neighborhoods, we'll sell more chili peppers and jalapeno peppers. Harder sells would be kohlrabi, celeriac, radicchio, things that people aren't really used to, but I always give away recipes and free samples.
Do you get grant money for this?
We have grants and foundations. We also do fundraising. Every year, we have a big event called the Tour de Farms, which is about a 30-mile bike ride from the city to the country – Oles Family Farm (in Alden). So we have four urban farms in the city, four farms in the country, then there's a big harvest festival at the Oles Farm. There's music and local beer, food. (This year it's Sept. 14; for more info, visit tourdefarmsbuffalo.org.)
So you're not making a profit on what you sell?
No. In fact, everything we sell is super cheap. The most expensive thing we sell is probably blueberries, any fruit. The most expensive vegetables we sell are about $2. Our tomatoes are four for $1; our peppers are two for $1. We accept food stamps and FMNP checks, which is a farmers' market program.
A lot of people ask us to come to farmers' markets, but we purposely don't come to farmers' markets because our food's so cheap. Because we're a nonprofit, we're about access, we're about education. We don't want to undercut farmers who are trying to make a profit. … It's really hard to make money being a farmer these days.
We purposely don't give our food away free. I teach our kids that, too. If things are free, people tend to take more than they really need. But also, we want to make people know that food has value. It isn't something that just gets handed to you. I really do think that going into a low-income neighborhood and giving away things for free has its place, but we should be empowering people to support their family.
Find out more about MAP and its diverse customer base at The Refresh Buffalo Blog at BuffaloNews.com.