Meet the Mango Mogul Who Grew Her Business Rooted in Community
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
March 10, 2023
At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, Sierra Young serves up mango smoothies, juices, and more, with a bright enthusiasm that complements her eye-catching orange mobile mango cart. “The whole concept of this business that I created was simply based on my passion for mangoes. I literally eat them religiously, daily,” she says. During the pandemic, Sierra channeled her deep love of mangoes into launching her business, Mangosay.
In 2022, Sierra started popping up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as part of Foodwise’s Building Equity Program, which supports the business growth, economic viability, and asset-building of food entrepreneurs of color. She recently became a permanent vendor at the Saturday market. At the California Small Farms Conference last month, Sierra joined Foodwise and Mandela Partners on a panel about “Advancing Equity for BIPOC Entrepreneurs at Farmers Markets,” to share her journey and partnerships built along the way.
Pursuing Mango-Fueled Dreams During the Pandemic
Sierra fondly remembers falling in love with mangoes as a college student who had just moved out of a small town and was being introduced to new foods. After graduating, she worked as a journalist before accepting a position as a manager in a locally based food franchise.
Her work eventually relocated her from Atlanta to California in 2020, just before the pandemic changed everything. Already having budding aspirations to open a business, the uncertainty of the pandemic gave Sierra the critical push to jumpstart Mangosay.
“The first challenge that I faced was finding a mango supplier,” says Sierra. Popping up at outdoor markets and community events in the Bay Area with varying weather and foot traffic, Sierra needed to find someone who could be flexible with the quantities she would purchase, while charging a fair price.
One day, she walked into a corner store in her neighborhood in Oakland and did a double take when she spotted a whole stand of mangoes. Almost three years later, Sierra continues to buy mangoes from the same store.
“Whether I need 300 mangoes a week or if I only need 60, due to bad weather or whatever the case may be, he’s there,” she says. The store owner also introduced Sierra to Mandela Partners, a nonprofit that could help her take next steps with her business.
Growing the Business and Vision with Mandela Partners
Based in West Oakland, Mandela Partners works in partnership with Bay Area residents, family farmers, and community-based businesses to improve health, create wealth, and build assets through local food enterprises in limited-resource communities.
Sabine Dabady, MPH, the Entrepreneurship Development Manager at Mandela Partners, works with East Bay entrepreneurs and leads business workshops and coaching in the Food Business Pathways program. They say, “Folks of color are critical to our food system, and it’s not enough that they’re just critical to the labor of it, but they should have agency and be able to drive and determine how it operates as well.”
With Mandela Partners, Sierra tackled the next phase of growing Mangosay, finding locations where she could share her mango love with more people. “I have this idea, I have this creativity, I have a little business sense, but what to do next was the thing that I was trying to figure out,” she recalls. “Once I got into Mandela’s program, it really cleared up my vision of what operating as a business is.”
With support from Mandela Partners and through coaching with Sabine, Sierra set her sights on farmers markets. Sabine says, “Farmers markets are opportunities and places for people to grow their capacity and learn really quickly and how to scale up and make improvements in operations.”
Mandela Partners and Foodwise work together to bring a rotating roster of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Mission Community Market. This is part of the Building Equity program, which offers technical assistance, financial support, and marketing and promotional support for entrepreneurs of color. Foodwise also partners with the nonprofits La Cocina and En2Action’s Ujamaa Kitchen.
Andrea Akers, Foodwise’s Market Operations Manager, says, “With farmers markets being historically white spaces, we feel it’s important to prioritize bringing BIPOC businesses to the forefront, making sure that they have access. Markets must reflect the communities they are located in and all the diversity that they bring.”
Joining the Farmers Market and Reaching Milestones
The farmers market is a bustling, vibrant community space, which provides a supportive network for growing businesses. Since joining the Saturday roster, Sierra has gained vital experience, grown her business capacity, and achieved more financial stability.
Between Mangosay’s alluring orange cart and menu of fresh prepared foods and smoothies, it’s no wonder that Sierra sold out on her first day. Since then, she’s scaled up the recipes for her offerings, which include mango juice, mango noodles, mango parfaits, mango sticky buns, and more.
“When you talk about the financial side, it has definitely been a boost in my sales,” she says. “It’s allowed me to say, ‘Wow, this could be the year that I could have solid, strong sales to get me to that next level.”
Now she’s looking forward to upgrading to a bigger cart and hiring more staff. “It’s the year of growth, for sure,” she says. Accepting a permanent spot at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market marked a milestone for Sierra, who had set this as a goal in conversation with Mandela Partners.
“You have people that come weekly. The farmers market is their market,” says Sierra. “They come for their produce, they come for their vegetables, they come for all of the unique makers that you don’t really get anywhere else. To be a part of that is really amazing.”
Support Mangosay at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays. Learn more about Foodwise’s Building Equity Program and meet more participating entrepreneurs at Pop-Ups on the Plaza: Celebrating Black Women Makers on March 25.