Harlem at the Market: An Interview and An Epiphany

By: Dylan Rodgers

While perusing through the Harvest Home Farmer's Market on 125th Street located at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building Plaza, I couldn't help but notice the thick Harlem culture all around me.  That would seem obvious, due to the fact that I was in Harlem, but there was just something utterly unique in the air.  I have often been to places where I couldn't pinpoint any specific culture or feeling, Harlem is not one of those places.

Right as I stepped foot on the plaza property, the enticing sounds of reggae drifted throughout, encasing the market activities in a steady beat.  People walked to and fro between stands of homemade soaps, incense, and decorative crafts, all with a massive, serene backdrop of murals depicting black culture and Harlem through figure both in motion and emotion; ancient pyramids rose above cityscapes, and the fickle moon shifted faces amongst ribbons of woven design.  It is beautiful work, to say the least.

And then the sound of bongos accenting the reggae caught my attention.  I looked towards the sound; underneath Adam Clayton Powell's monument sat two men and a boy beating on drums.  I went to speak with them, and met a man named Garrett.

Garrett is an original Harlemite.  He has gone to the Harvest Home Farmer's Market five days a week four years now.  When he goes, he always takes more drums than he can play because he wants people to join the drum circle for a jam.

"It's an open drum circle," he says, "It's surprising who can play that you never thought could."

Always interested in food, I asked him if he cooks.  "I cook to survive," Garrett said. "I am the King of the Microwave.  I just put some chicken, vegetables, and spices with a little bit of water and cook it up."

This made me think:  too often do we get caught up in the tide of high-end culinary influence; we can become snobbish to simple ingredients and cooking methods.  There is something immensely powerful in the idea of cooking for survival.

Survival subterranean motivation underlies everything we do, and how remarkably easy it is to forget when "survival" isn't on my daily checklist.

All of the sudden it clicked as my surroundings again came into the forefront of cognition:  reggae, the murals, and now Garrett.  Harlem culture values survival and celebrates life.  I guess every culture does in one way or another, but it is normally submersed.  Everywhere you look in Harlem there's artwork depicting the triumph through oppression and the survival of through tribulation; the preservation of the past with a day-by-day gaze toward the future.  This is Harlem.

Photo: Melaina Gasbarrio

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