As reported earlier, the first market post-Isaac on Saturday was low-keyed but a real boost to the spirits. Much of the city was still without power and starting the post-hurricane work in the form of repairing tree and house damage. My friend and I biked from MidCity through Treme to the CBD. The market was small, small enough to allow those vendors that came to be able to work off the back of their trucks, but it was well designed. The only other Saturday market that exists in the city did not open so this was the only game in town for food, conviviality and news of farmers and fishers. These vendors have been through weather drama before, so when you come to their table and raise an eyebrow, they know to come to you and give you a short breakdown of any damage. Board President Margaret Beer was not only there as always on a Saturday, but making a point to ask each vendor how they did and taking a minute to discuss with me what she was going to do to comfort the family of the recently passed Jim Core, anchor farmer. Doing her job in other words.
After shopping and talking and visiting with everyone, we went across the street to the chocolatiers/coffeehouse Bittersweet Confections. Bittersweet is the first previous market vendor that has opened a storefront near a market. The owner had applied to be a vendor many times at the farmers market, but the committee (and myself, as the acting market manager at the time) had long worried about how the chocolates would last in the heat and other challenges of an open air market, so had regretfully turned her down more than once. Lucky for her, we began a winter fair trade/handmade/ recycled goods market that we called “Festivus, the Holiday Market for the Rest of Us” in 2003, where she was finally accepted as a vendor. Her goods and retail demeanor were so outstanding that the farmers market reconsidered and allowed her to come as a vendor, which has led to an well-loved full time business. This very Saturday was the first time I had spent time in her new location which is directly across the street from the Saturday market and the crush of market shoppers having coffee and waffles in their welcome a/c was a delight to see.
One of the faces in the crowd was Robin Barnes, who has become a very dear member of the market community since her arrival in Louisiana post-Katrina. She originally came to help with recovery as VP of an organization called Seedco Financial Services, which had helped small businesses find new locations, funds and a plan in post 9-11 lower Manhattan. Her insight and deep empathy for the plight of small businesses after disaster led her to Louisiana and to the market community where she was instrumental in the recovery of most of the family fishing businesses in our lower parishes and to African-American owned businesses throughout the city. Since her early days living in a sublet out of a suitcase, she has bought a house, made a life in our city and even named her lovely orange cat Satsuma L’Hoste after one of her favorite products and market families!
Now a Executive VP at GNOInc, she continues to find ways to include market small businesses in her multi-parish fight for economic viability. Seeing her this Saturday means that these stories will be shared with government leaders and more good advice will be given to the market from one of the few regional leaders we have.
The Tuesday market was slightly bigger, and included seafood for the first time since Isaac. 4 Winds Seafood was there (1 of the seafood vendors out of the regular 3) and said she did fine. Of course, she did fine because she and her family have moved away from their pre-Katrina parish St. Bernard to a slightly higher one (St. Tammany) where they are not in the flood-prone zone in their new parish. Also, her husband Ray had docked the boat well before high winds came. She brought some shrimp that had been harvested right before the storm and kept frozen with generators after freezing directly after harvest. This is how most of our shrimp is kept: a good way to see it directly is to watch one of the short videos I made while at marketumbrella.org under the Go Fish project name:
I also noticed that the markets were having one of their market incentive campaigns, probably for SNAP users. The organization runs their matching programs very artfully I think: they work closely with their farmers product timing and their event plan to maximize small pots of money to bring new shoppers in and get some return visits in quickly. They usually run 4-8 different incentive campaigns each year and this year, even used Groupon to raise money for one of those campaigns. The Groupon funded the kids activities at the market-how it ties into incentives is that the organization runs one of their incentive programs year-round for kids; called Marketeers, kids receive a birthday postcard in the mail and they bring it to the market booth and get a 5.00 token. The Marketeers have an event on the first Saturday of every month.
Thursday’s market was also small but as welcome as one or two of these vendors only come to Thursday’s market so it was the first time they could check in. This is the smallest of all of the markets and still struggling to get its critical mass, as it’s the most recently opened (only a few years). Still, it’s across the bayou from my house and I appreciate the chance for a 3rd market day so always try to support it.
I ended the market week with cilantro hummus, Mississippi apples, Mississippi ground lamb, St. John parish tomatoes, St. Tammany baked goods and fresh watermelon juice, Mississippi goat cheese and fresh beans, Orleans parish peppers and honey and some strong CDM iced coffee. Now back to cutting those banana trees and picking up debris from the surrounding streets..
More news will slowly trickle from the lower parishes over the next few months, but only if someone is actively seeking that information. Of course, the market community will be among those staying in touch. I’ll be sure to share here too. Meanwhile, here is some early video from the edge of America’s land, Grand Isle.