First Lt. Casey Zimmerman looks over the fresh produce local farmers brought to the Yusifiyah Wholesale Farmers’ Market grand opening on April 29. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback)
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq – The Yusifiyah Wholesale Farmers’ Market had a grand reopening on April 29 after closing four years ago.
“This was the center of commerce for the city before the war,” said Capt. Steve McGregor, from Longwood, Fla., projects officer for 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “It shut down because of all the fighting … It was the main way the farmers in this agrarian society made their money.”
Now, the wholesale market may help turn a profit for local farmers. Regular markets only allow farmers to sell produce or goods a little at a time; at the wholesale market, people come to buy bulk produce by the kilogram.
After a terrorist attack on the market forced the closure in 2004, it was victimized by criminal activity and fell into a state of disrepair.
Capt. Michael Starz, a Pittsburgh native, and commander of Company C, 3-187th Inf. Regt., met frequently with the owner of the market, Turki Harridege, to coordinate support for the reopening.
The 4th Battalion, 25th Brigade, 6th Iraqi army division agreed to provide security for the market, and a member of the ministry of sewage helped to clean the area.
To help get the market fully suitable for business, McGregor worked with Staff Sgt. Thai Starkovich, from Gardina, Calif., the headquarters military transition team noncommissioned officer in charge, Co. C, 3-187th Inf. Regt., and Michael Khatib, from Melbourne, Calif, a bilingual, bicultural adviser for the Department of State, to handle micro-grant applications that will jump start to the farmers who were setting up shop.
With the money, which can reach up to $2,500, farmers can buy inventory, signs, store safes, new doors and other equipment, McGregor said.
While not all the stores were occupied the first day, Harridege said all 120 storefronts should be occupied within two to three months.
“This is a huge event,” Starkovich said. “Having this open with minimal security and having people able to just walk in and out, speaks for itself as far as the confidence the people and the shop owners have about the security situation here in Yusifiyah. It’s a very good sign for progress in the region.”