Dipping in to JazzFest

Sometimes being a consultant and researcher needs to be combined with more hands-on experience in actually making something or serving customers to remind me what market vendors or staff have to do and how I can help to find or create resources for them. When I feel that way, I take myself to a market or to a farm or an artist’s workshop or store to help. This last week, I was able to do just that and to experience the first weekend of the massive New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s 47th year, 45 of them held at the Fairgrounds in the Gentilly neighborhood. For just a little while, I became a dipper for La Divina Gelateria.

I first met gelato wizards Katrina and Carmelo when they applied to become vendors at the Uptown farmers market in 2006 or so. We knew that they weren’t likely to stay forever as vendors, but their locally sourced ingredients, business savvy and wide set of connections around New Orleans made them a good choice to become a short-term vendor, especially in those post-levee break times. See, many of our vendors had not returned yet but we did have thousands of repairing residents and first responders greedy for any sort of authenticity and regular activity flocking to our Tuesday market. We thought LDG’s energy would be helpful in those months, and it was.

They quickly moved from their umbrella spot to a few storefront locations around town, but remained regular shoppers at the markets and supporters of the organization, even selling our market t-shirts in their stores for a while. I follow them on social media and try to catch up with Katrina whenever possible, so when they let the universe know they were searching for volunteers to work their stand set up next to the Fais Do-Do stage, I emailed her. She wrote me back right away offering me a spot on the first weekend for 2.5 hours and the chance to attend the rest of the day for free (JF costs 80 bucks a day to just get in the door!) along with the use of their own locked port-a-let and tent area for crew members to hang out when not working (don’t laugh-people would pay large amounts of money to get those added items if they could.)

Food

The festival has dozens and dozens of selections of the best food in town, some of which is only available during these 2 weekends.That is because even when some of the city’s classic restaurants close, they hold on to their spot out at the fairgrounds to continue to sell their items to appreciative audiences; it helps that the festival actually has a “no carnival food” policy to guide their choices and maintain the quality.

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The yellow booths all over the map are the food booths

I well know how the festival food staff was instrumental in 2006 + in getting some of their hardest hit vendors back to the festival, doing what they could to help those struggling by finding them kitchens to work from and (rumor has it) even assisting with resources when possible. I heard about the encouraging calls from the festival staff that made a great deal of difference to many of those who lost their homes and businesses and were done without any expectation of a return by those vendors or to gain any publicity for their actions.

What everyone does know is that the presentation, food handling and prices are managed extremely well by the festival’s food staff and by the vendors who work from the extensive rules and suggestions of the festival staff. If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen my post last Saturday about the connections between the market and the festival:

…The relationship between JF and CCFM has a long history, starting with the excellent food handling experience that the Fest food staff shared with the market (which allowed the market to write one of the best risk management systems of sampling, temperature controls and product handling of any market that I have seen) and also included a few staff who worked at both the Fest and the markets, and a whole era of food demonstrations in the Grandstand area from market vendors back in the day. …

(I maintain a tattered hope in finding a funder interested in letting me uncover best practices of fairs and festivals to build the professional skills and organizational capacity of farmers markets in areas such as production, sponsorships and educational activities- if so, certainly this festival’s experience would be one of those selected.)

Anyone can see that being a food vendor at a festival that attracts 60,000* people per day on a slow day and double that on a big day and runs for 7 days over 2 weekends requires some planning, effort and some sleepless nights.

So LDG’s tent became my workplace for a little while last week. They offer 8 kinds of gelato under a double tent, close to the main walkway that meanders around the infield.

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This is owner Carmelo on Day 1 at his tent, telling food writer, radio and tv host Poppy Tooker that the espresso machine was malfunctioning and the affogato was not ready to go yet. She was clearly horrified but gracious about the lack of espresso since she gladly came back the next morning.

 

Once I got in the tent, Katrina gave me a 2-minute tutorial on where to stow items, what each person would be doing and what was being offered that day.  The flavors were: Milk chocolate, butter pecan, cookies and cream, creme brulee, red cream soda, strawberry balsamic, azteca (spicy) chocolate, and salted caramel. She told me to pull 3 full scoops each time and how to know if it was to be in a cup or cone. She explained the precise actions that would happen for each order.

I was assigned as a dipper, standing next to the other (more experienced) dipper on a tiny platform (that I almost stepped off 2 or 3 times without noticing ) with my back to the cashiers but within earshot and sight of my expediter. The platform is necessary cuz the cooler is raised off the ground (per food storage guidelines),  allowing the machinery to work better on the grassy infield which also means water intake from flooding is less of an issue in case of rain (as happened on the first Sunday, delaying opening of the festival for 3.5 hours.**)

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Owner Katrina working as a dipper when it got very busy during a shift changeover.

The other dipper did 60-70% of the orders as her cashier was nearer to the list of flavors and mine was sitting in a camp chair which made her hard to see when you walked up. However, she made up for it with a flair for customers and energetic calls to those standing out front and for orders ( “Come on up folks! Order here.” “AFFOGATOOO AzTECa please!”  “Twooooo milk chocolate cones please!” )

My expeditor was a young woman visiting New Orleans, there to be an intern for a season for local community initiatives. She was excited about the opportunity to get into JazzFest, able to help a local business and was a hard worker.

I did fine for the first 2 hours keeping up with my minimal orders without problem. Then, the crowds came. Interestingly, even though the gates open at 11 or 11:30 each day, thousands of attendees don’t arrive until well after 3 pm even though the stages shut down by 7:25 pm with no exceptions. The biggest names draw those who only come for their show and who don’t care to wander the grounds seeing what else is available at the 11 other stages and the dozens or so craft and demonstration areas. (I know- it makes locals crazy.)

So my last half hour the orders came fast and thick and still, for the most part I kept up. The other dipper had explained how to place a cup or cone as each order was called at the flavor asked for and then dipping each and handing to the expediter. All went well until a slew of affogato-style cups came which meant each time the expediter had to leave the area and walk across the tent to the espresso machine, waiting for the shot to be added, then to walk it back to the customer. As a result, I had to dip each regular cup or cone, step off my platform and hand it to the customer myself. It mostly went fine but I give my expeditor lots of credit for helping me catch up when she got back.

Other more experienced staff were also on hand to help,  watching levels of gelato, switching out them quickly between orders and cleaning the scoopers as needed in the 3-part set up for washing, rinsing and sanitizing.

Still, except for a few that I missed hearing and delayed in getting out for a minute or two, my expeditor and I  did fine and the good news is once that person gets their gelato in hand, all delay is forgiven.
When Katrina thanked me and let me go, I was grateful to have done the shift and even more grateful that I had not impaired them too badly on my initial run. I learned the complexity of a simple gelato cup and the teamwork it takes to make great food happen on a grassy area of a festival.

(Next week: I’ll be holding down the fort at my pal’s St. Charles Avenue shop while she vends at the Contemporary Crafts section of JazzFest.)unnamed.jpg

*From Wikipedia: Record single day attendance was 160,000 for the Dave Matthews Band and Mystikal on Second Saturday, 2001. Elton John in 2015 probably drew 130,000+, and that’s the only other time they’ve passed 100,000.  The old record was 98,000 on Second Saturday in 1998, when Jimmy Buffett headlined.  Typical attendance is 60,000 on a weekday, 80-90,000 on a weekend.

 

** Sunday: torrential rain and tornado warnings delayed the opening of JF until 3 pm and left the vendors camped out in the Grandstand building, hoping the water would not make it in their tents. Some of these folks were not so lucky..18222686_10154661461639366_739334513336050751_n.jpg18194856_10154661461674366_793755088390801239_n.jpg

New streetcar line drives market biz, sez vendor

Barb Cooper and her husband operate a fresh produce and specialty shop called Daisy Mae’s Market at Findlay Market and launched Cincinnati Food Tours in 2012 to introduce visitors to Findlay Market, share culinary experiences and spread her enthusiasm for Over-the-Rhine. She says some stores have reported a 30 percent increase in sales since the streetcar started traversing Cincinnati’s streets.

“The excitement around it is just amazing. Most of the people that are coming on my tours live in the suburbs and they’ve heard about the streetcar. They’ve heard about Over-the-Rhine’s revitalization, and they really need somebody to help them navigate it to see what’s really here,” Cooper said.

Findlay Market vendor claims streetcar is behind booming business – Story

 

Here is a link to other posts about Cincinnati’s Findlay Market from this blog. Here is a post on my French Quarter blog comparing the French Quarter to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Findlay and the new streetcar sit.

 

One business shares a gratitude index

In what has to be the most common topic in this blog for 2016, I offer another illustration of how data collection can be simply managed, yet offer meaningful data for a wide variety of audiences.
The elegant metrics from a small value-added business in Charlottesville VA are below. It seems important to note that Stacy was my comrade for the original creation of the FMC Farmers Market Metrics work (and FMC’s founding executive director before our current excellent Jen Cheek) , and did a incredible consulting  job in 2016 assisting FMC with metric refinement, data collection research and devising the workbooks that are at the core of the FMM program. Those tasks are in addition to what the output shows in the metrics below, her devotion to fitness as a student and a leader and (along with her ever cheerful husband Joe) raising their energetic son.

2016 was good phyte foods’ first full calendar year of operation, after our first humble sale at Charlottesville City Market in May 2015. Since January this year, the business has made from scratch and sold 57,024 crackers, 1,003 bars, 157 pounds of granola, 978 pumpkin muffins, 533 kale cookies, and a motley assortment of odd-looking experimental snacks. In so doing, we have bought sustainably grown (and often certified organic) vegetables and herbs from at least twelve farms² in Central Virginia. We are grateful not only to our loyal and patient customers at City Market, but to our enduring local partners at The Juice Laundry, Random Row Brewing, Blue Ridge Country Store, and ACAC Downtown. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is a humbling honor to be part of this evolving local food economy.

And for those who think cottage industry producers only care about their own cash flow:

In the coming year, we want to expand our reach to more retail partners, reinvest in new equipment, train some cracker apprentices, experiment with early summer cracker flavors, and give back to community organizations that are helping kids eat more vegetables. I have recently been appointed to the Advisory Council of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, which, among other things, teaches children of limited economic means how to grow, use, and appreciate fresh organic vegetables.

Go Stacy Miller; Keep the goodphyte going.

Source: getting specific: gratitude counts in our 2016 index

DIY vendor cart

JD Farms in Mississippi has innovated another direct marketing idea while vending at the Crescent City Farmers Market. They have built free-standing carts to better present their goods and offer some flexibility in how they set up their stall. They have two of these with a third fixture being the yellow plant stand that can be just seen to the right in the picture.

What I like about this cart is how they incorporate customer needs like the waist-level display area, the middle shelf seen to the right of the shopper in the pic (which folds down), and the chalkboards on the bottom. The vendor side has recessed spaces for bags and a place for the cash box. Obviously, the umbrella slots into the middle of the display.

They can use a pallet jack to load these into their van and will be continuing to update the design of these.I have encouraged Don and Jeff to build then for others, or at least sell plans for making them. Feel free to join me in urging this side business for this talented duo.

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Will This New Labor Classification Save Gig Workers’ Careers? 

A new proposal by MBO Partners, which provides back office services to independent workers out of Herndon, Va., aims to alleviate those concerns. Under the proposal, released this morning, independent workers would be able to seek a special certification signifying that they have formally declared their status as independent workers and have opted out of the protections given to traditional employees. Companies who hired the certified workers would be safe from having the workers reclassified as employees.

“We’re not trying change any laws that exist today,” said Gene Zaino, founder and CEO of MBO Partners. “We want to create a safe harbor for people who acknowledge they don’t need the rights of an employee. For those people who don’t want to go through the process, the current laws still exist.”

There are some potential challenges with the proposal, he acknowledges. One is the potential for employers to pressure freelancers to get the certification–or lose out on potential work. To prevent the most vulnerable workers from being exploited, MBO Partners has proposed that only workers who earn $50 an hour or more could be certified.

Source: Will This New Labor Classification Save Gig Workers’ Careers? – Forbes

Baker shutting the door on markets

 

I had written about this baker giving up the weekday market almost exactly 2 years ago and now via his wonderfully written email newsletter excerpted and linked at the bottom of this post, I see that he is about to give up the remaining farmers market that he attends.

I have certainly heard a wide range of reasons given by producers about why markets no longer work for them, and thanks to my long ago human resources training, I learned to ask myself and my market peers what I used to ask of my staff about departing or failing employees:

Did we do all that we could do to help this person succeed? Did we offer the same resources and attention that we could offer or do offer to others? What else should we offer (if anything) to help situations like this not happen as often in the future? Or are there just circumstances out of anyone’s control that made this inevitable?

When I post this news on my personal FB page, I guarantee you I’ll hear  responses from market shopping friends as well as non-market shopping friends telling me their opinion of his products and his stall, both good and bad, a few who will blame the market and still others who will shrug and say it goes with the territory.

I also guarantee you that when I go and talk to him directly about this email, he will be fair (he always is) to the market management but also specifically critical about markets. He will suggest marketing ideas to me, some of which might very well work for this market and some that have been tried and not worked in the past, all of which may or may not have helped his business. I expect that we will find ourselves in somewhat of a standoff, although I will agree with him that markets should be reactive to the needs of their anchor and to their specialty vendors. I’m not saying that this market was not – I cannot know what the recent relationship is-  but wearing my hat of a market strategist for a minute, any and all markets should constantly fine tune their management and marketing based on their measurement of positive and negative impacts, and that does include measuring a spectrum of individual stall activity across the market.

The trick is to measure within the context of each business’ set of goals and true interest in being at markets long-term.

As a specialty item vendor (he’d  disagree with that description I am guessing, but his breads are unique enough for purchase that they have to be seen as specialty rather than staple goods still), finding his customers can be slightly more tricky than it is for the market to find the anchor vendors customers. And to further confuse matters, in some markets, once in a while the specialty vendors ARE the anchor vendors.

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