Paterson woman opens ‘A Better Market’ to provide Black-owned foods

PATERSON — The trunk of Shana Manradge’s minivan was flung open, displaying the haul she had purchased that same day from a Black-owned farm near Philadelphia.

Wooden crates of lemons, pineapples, string beans, bananas and peaches would soon find their way to the tables of her Paterson customers.

“These peaches are heaven,” Manradge said. “I ate one on the way home.”

Connecting the Paterson community to Black-owned food providers

Manradge runs an online shop called A Better Market that launched last year with the mission to connect her community to quality food produced by Black-owned companies.

Hot sauce, cookies and salsa made by small businesses — all taste-tested — are neatly stacked on shelves in her detached garage in Paterson’s Eastside. Sometimes Manradge sells items grown or made by city residents. She also makes weekly trips to three farms in South Jersey for fruit, vegetables, eggs, poultry and sometimes even steak.

“My eggs are a day old,” said Manradge, who gets them from a Black-owned farm called Smith Poultry in Williamstown. “That’s the freshness I’m looking for.”

Shana Manradge displays some of the food she sources from Black-owned farms and providers at her Eastside garage in Paterson, New Jersey.

At first, Manradge simply wanted to buy meat and eggs from small farms, because she feels she can help her community avoid health problems associated with factory farms, such as food-borne illnesses. But she said the police-custody death of George Floyd in 2020 had a profound effect on her — and she’s not alone. 

Kyle Smith, 36, who is originally from Egg Harbor Township, opened Smith Poultry after he began thinking about “what I eat, where it comes from, and who I’m supporting by eating that food.” 

Smith said that mantra took on a whole new meaning after Floyd’s death. He notices now that customers — including Manradge and several restaurants in Philadelphia — are seeking out more Black farmers.

“Nowadays people feel disconnected from their foods,” Smith said, adding that at his farm, the chickens roam free, even hopping on his customers’ cars. “Shana is giving people in her community a direct connection to their food. She’s picking up eggs the same day we take them out of the coop.”

Smith believes Manradge is reviving a longstanding tradition that Black communities used to rely on for quality food. His grandfather was a street vendor in Philadelphia and would bring back produce from the countryside to sell in his neighborhood.

“That’s how Black communities got their food back in the day,” said Smith, who lives on the farm with his mother, uncle and five children.

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Responding to rising food insecurity

A Better Market is more than just a small business. When you listen to Manradge, a self-described foodie, she speaks with the passion of an activist who wants to change a broken system. Her cause? Everyone has the right to fresh, quality food at affordable prices, she said. The way she keeps her prices down is by “cutting out the middleman.”

“In urban areas, our food gets stepped on so many times before it actually gets on our tables,” Manradge said.

She opened her refrigerator to reveal less common offerings, like turmeric and dragonfruit. “It’s just me between the customer and the farm, so I can keep the prices low and bring pretty fruit and vegetables to our table,” she said.

When COVID struck, and food insecurity spiked among many families in her neighborhood, Manradge became passionate about the issue of food deserts and began volunteering with the local United Way to raise awareness. One of the people she met working with the nonprofit was Kimmeshia Rogers-Jones, also a volunteer from Paterson, who would become one of her most loyal customers.

Rogers-Jones, who twice a month buys Manradge’s produce bag for $50, said most people in her neighborhood buy groceries at bodegas that rarely have fresh produce. A Better Market sells most fruit for $1 or less. A dozen organic eggs cost $5.

Rogers-Jones said there are still items she needs that Manradge doesn’t yet carry — like heavy cream and bread. But the prices at the local supermarket are too expensive, she added, so she usually shops at the ShopRite store in Fair Lawn.

“I wish I could do all my shopping with Shana,” said Rogers-Jones. “I’m looking forward to her opening a brick-and-mortar in Paterson so that everyone can have access to quality food at an affordable price.”

How does the shop work?

As soon as Manradge gets home from a trip to the countryside, she posts her latest inventory on social media, and her loyal customer base of about 20 to 25 families make appointments to swing by her home, where she keeps her goods in three large refrigerators.

The current setup is only temporary. She said she plans eventually to open a shop in Paterson. Then she’ll be able to accept food stamps — also known as SNAP — enabling her to reach even more people in her city, where a third of all residents live below the poverty line.

Since her market opened, Manradge, who previously worked in the medical field for 30 years, hasn’t taken a paycheck. But she approaches her work like a triage nurse. She believes food is making her community sick.

“A lot of our health is food-related,” she said. “If you look at the ShopRite circular, what’s on sale is junk food, especially at the beginning of the month, when the EBT cards start filling.”

Darren Tobia is a contributing writer for Paterson Press.

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