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Juneteenth Food Festival Draws Thousands to Crown Heights

The Weeksville Heritage Center’s Juneteenth Food Festival is growing into one of the city’s premier places to experience Black food and culture.

Saturday’s sunny weather brought out large crowds to celebrate Juneteenth at the Weeksville Heritage Center’s annual food festival. The day featured food from more than 40 Black-owned vendors, as well as live music, educational programming, activities for kids and yoga sessions.

Juneteenth, on June 19, commemorates the date when enslaved Texans first learned of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States. Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday in 2022, and Weeksville launched their first Juneteenth food festival that year.

Food at Weeksville's Juneteenth Food Festival . Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“Food is community building,” said Raymond Codrington, president and chief executive of the Weeksville Heritage Center. “The festival is a way to bring people together, but It’s also a way to support local businesses.”

Last year’s event, which took place over two days, attracted more than 9,000 visitors, according to Codrington. This year, the vendors were moved off the main grounds of the center and onto the surrounding streets to accommodate more people.

“I wanted to come and experience all kinds of Black food all in one place,” said attendee Zoe Mercado, who heard about the festival through an Eventbrite post. “I really like the diversity of restaurants here. They have some of the best restaurants in the city.”

Juneteenth Food Festival Visitor Zoe Mercado. . Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

The vendors at the festival were chosen by Black-Owned Brooklyn, a publication that highlights Black-owned businesses in the borough, which is also a co-producer and co-presenter of the event. 

Many of the vendors, like 2 Girls & a Cookshop – Jamaican Tacos, served Caribbean-influenced dishes.

Founded by mother-daughter duo Shelly and Jataun Flash, who are of Jamaican descent, 2 Girls & a Cookshop served tacos filled with traditional Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken and coconut rice.

“We wanted to do something that no one's ever seen before,” said Jataun Flash. “A lot of our family were like, 'What is that?' And they weren't really open to until they tried it. And then when they tried it they were like, 'Oh, this is really different. It's really good.'”

On the sweeter side, visitors picked up deserts like classic red velvet cake from Doc’s Cake Shop, or gourmet cookies from The Salty Heifer Co.

Iesha Williams, founder of Salty Heifer Co. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“What makes our cookies unique are the blends of flavor,” said Iesha Williams, founder of the Salty Heifer, who added that her unique recipe includes baking her cookies in animal fat for an extra kick of flavor. “I appreciate the flavor and the contrast between the salt, the savory and the sweet."

Though the festival is still new, it has gained its fair share of faithful attendees.

“Anything that Weeksville puts on I'm usually curious to know what it's going to be, because it's usually good,” said Yvonne Rubie, a Brooklyn resident who’s attended the festival all three years. “I used to do vending, and so I know  the commitment it takes, and it's just good to support people who are doing it themselves and creating new things that perhaps we haven't had before.”

Weeksville Heritage Center's Juneteenth Food Festival. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

BEM – Books & More, a Black culinary bookstore, was one of several non-food vendors at the festival.

“There is an amazing legacy of Black bookstores in the U.S. And there's a handful of culinary bookstores across the country, but there wasn't one that was doing both of those things,” said Gabrielle Davenport, who founded BEM with her mother and sister.

“This is our second year out here. We love this festival. Whenever there's a lot of Black folks gathered around food, we're glad to be in the mix. We had our best sales weekend of all time here last year, so we're glad to be back.”

The Weeksville Heritage Center is a landmarked historic site, which is home to several buildings from one of America’s first free Black communities in the 19th century. Upcoming events at the center include “Picturing an Abundant Queer Future,” a day of programming based on uplifting the queer community on June 22nd, and a free "Rest and Restore" yoga session on June 28th. 

Christopher Edwards

About the Author: Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a native Brooklynite and current student at Baruch College, majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing.
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