Above: From left: Inocencia Ordunás, Hector Vargas and Jazmin Lopez are part of a group of “micro mercantes” who have launched their tamale business with the help of a new program. Below: Tamales made by the Hacienda entrepreneurs. // Photos by Teresa Meier
Should budding entrepreneurs strike out on their own? Or is it more effective to pool resources with like-minded business owners? That was the dilemma facing the “Micro Mercantes” tamale vendors, a group of low-income Latinas who participate in a microenterprise program sponsored by Hacienda Community Development Corporation.
When the program launched in 2005, “The idea was to provide each lady training tools to start their own business,” says program coordinator Jorge Alvarado. But this year, “the ladies realized they could make more money with less labor if they formed a co-op.”
So on a recent Friday morning, nine women — and one son-in-law — gathered in Hacienda’s community kitchen, assembling spinach and chicken tamales, to be sold at 10 area farmer’s markets for about $4. Each of the women sells at one market a week, with one vendor working an extra market on a weekly rotation.
Buying wholesale and working as a team are some of the benefits of the co-op, says member Jazmin Lopez. Each woman contributes about $150 a week for ingredients; the vendors also share vehicles, and occasionally husbands, to help transport groceries and finished tamales. Weekly revenues are about $5,000, and depending on the individual, the women earn 50% to 100% of their family’s income.