A bittersweet thanks from a market vendor

One of the great market bakers over the last many years in New Orleans wrote the letter below telling of his decision to leave the Tuesday market in New Orleans to his customers via Facebook and his website. (He remains at their Saturday market still.) This vendor is an extremely creative and dedicated artisan and one with diversified marketing and product ideas. Unfortunately in his estimation, the potential for sales are diminishing, especially at the weekday markets. That view is not his alone; it is shared by some other vendors. This is the first comment after his Facebook post and happened to be from another past market baker: “This is sad to hear for me because this is why I had to stop being a farmer’s market baker full time 5 years ago. I miss my CCFM family and wish everyone the best.”

When markets go through this, it can be a painful and messy break up or it can be a mature parting with lessons learned for all. Everyone has to agree to be careful with their language (spoken, written and body) and to be intentionally fair as the weeks and months go on.

I think this letter does a great job not to assign any blame and offers some good starting points for talking this through with shoppers, other vendors and the staff of the market organization. This is a volatile time for markets in New Orleans and the small businesses contained within feel the brunt of that ebb and flow.  I also well remember the pressure of being a market organizer, remembering every minute that good men and women and their families and employees rely on your estimations of the numbers of happy return shoppers, where to find inquisitive new shoppers, devising events that work and don’t detract from sales, outreach and marketing dollars spent well, locations remaining stable, partnerships adding value and so on while trying to calm fears and add excitement among the vendors while you do it.

As a market advocate and a member of this community, I worry along with all of them and show up at every market and event that I can and share information freely to help everyone move forward. Because our purpose in building a community food system is to offer new opportunities that offer sustained value and multiple types of benefits along every step of the chain, and honor the producers who are building this on their backs and with their many talents, supported by the hard work and talent of market and other food system organizers. Let’s all keep momentum moving forward to reduce the quantity of these type of letters.

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25 November 2014

Dear Farmers Market Customers:

It is with a heavy heart that we are announcing our departure from Tuesday’s Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM). Due to a sustained erosion of sales over the course of the past eights months, and to the unpredictably of future markets, we are forced to withdraw our booth from this cherished market. Our last TUESDAY market will be the 25th of November.

Although Bellegarde Bakery, in its original gestation as “Babcia Kubiak’s Breads”, began at CCFM five years ago, we have found that the current status of public markets in New Orleans is extremely volatile. There is an overwhelming consensus among vendors at CCFM that “business is not what it used to be”: due to the nature of Bellegarde’s craft, and our commitment to quality, we do not have a “product” which we can freeze, store, or transfer once market is over. We make fresh bread, day in and day out, in heat and in cold, on weekends and on holidays, so that our customers can understand the integrity of fresh food.

We are extremely vulnerable—physically and financially—to capricious weather, shopping habits, and other food ‘trends’ that degrade the quality and consistency of farmers markets. Vendors at farmers markets are at the bottom of the proverbial food chain: we do all the sowing and receive little of the harvest. The current food economy of America is such that money, respect, and stability trickle down from celebrity chefs, supermarkets, and restaurants to the bottom of the pool—fishermen, beekeepers, bakers, farmers: the people that actually make food have trouble making a living at their primary venue of sales: the farmers market. Without any institutional or municipal support through grants, press, mentorship, or subsidy, we vendors suffer the modern whims of that most basic human gesture: the eating and sharing food.

By the vendors, for the vendors: it’s a motto we still live by. We have an implacable commitment to rebuilding the edible architecture of New Orleans through grains and breads. We will remain at our SATURDAY booth and you can find us in a litany of retail locations—from Rouses and Whole Foods to St James Cheese and Faubourg Wines. Please follow the “retail” tab on our website, bellegardebakery.com, or call the shop with any questions about where to find our bread. Thank you, sincerely, for your continued support and faith.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Baker shutting the door on markets | Helping Public Markets Grow

  2. Pingback: Baker shutting the door on markets | Helping Public Markets Grow

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