Increasing the other impacts of markets

In terms of describing how intellectual and ecological capital can be increased by markets, this interview from a few years back during the kickoff of the Creole Tomato Festival in the French Quarter in New Orleans  is an excellent illustration of how a market manager can do just that:

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – It’s time to talk tomatoes! This weekend the French Market will be filled with tomato festivities for the 29th annual Creole Tomato Festival. News with a Twist Reporter, Kenny Lopez wanted to learn more about the creole tomato. What is it? How’s it different than a regular tomato? How do you pick one?

Andrew McDaniel with Crescent City Farmers Market helped answer those questions.

“It’s been debated upon what a creole tomato is. Some people say it’s a variety of tomato that was put out by LSU in the 1960’s. …the creole tomato is a tomato grown in Louisiana soil. These tomatoes are usually grown along the river parishes, the parishes that line the Mississippi River. The soil is richer, so these are the ones we consider creole,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said that the main difference between a regular tomato and a creole tomato is the taste. “Creole tomatoes stay on the vine longer, so they’re fresher. They’re better because the tomatoes don’t have to travel across the country. The soil is what makes them sweeter,” he said.

He sure knows a lot about creole tomatoes and how to pick some good ones.

“You want them to be firm and red. If it’s for a salad then you don’t want them to have a lot of blemishes. Those kind end up slicing well. When you come to the Farmers Market, you’ll often find a basket called ‘seconds’. These kind of tomatoes are good for stewing, cooking, and making salsa. They are just as good, they don’t always look as pretty as the others, so that’s the reason they’re cheaper,” he said.

The summertime is the perfect time for creole tomatoes.

“Creole tomatoes are just a quintessential summertime food, especially when you pick them up fresh,” McDaniel said.

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March 19: St. Joseph’s Day Altars

Below is a link to a post I wrote a few years back about the lovely New Orleans tradition of creating altars on March 19th, St. Joseph, his feast day. This happens in New Orleans because of the large number of Sicilian immigrants that came to New Orleans starting in the 19th century; it was the second largest influx of Sicilian immigration in the 19th century behind New York City.  In Sicily, thanks are given to San Giuseppe for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages.

Food is obviously central to life here, but the idea of these altars has always seemed so special to me as it uses food to create homemade art and to feed people as the altars are broken down afterward and given out. Many of the altar societies also offer a meal on the day as well.

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So long, NOLa’s Hollygrove farm shop

Hollygrove Market’s debt forces closure of post-Katrina bright spot

I’ve been waiting for this for some time. The design of this program has depended on grants and at times, on the kindness of the neighborhood leadership, and as is the case far too often, on goodwill to carry them through. The costs (some of which are outlined in Paul Barricos’ thoughtful and honest interview in ensuing articles which indicate that the cost of rent and insurance were significant for a non-profit and doesn’t even mention the cost for utilities, which you can imagine…)
More importantly, the original idea was undercut almost immediately by for-profit versions of delivery services and by offering products with too little profit margin to make it. I also commend Paul and his Hollygrove CDC team who have done their best to learn about farming and retail as best they could and stepped up to provide an outlet for local farmers, much like Sankofa has been doing in the lower 9 section of New Orleans for about the same length of time.
As local farmers Grant and Kate Estrade of Local Cooling Farm said today, think of the farmers who sell through this outlet and do your best to not penalize them because of this closure.

For me, the lesson is that community initiatives around food and farming in an urban environment are very very challenging, especially when supply and demand needs are not balanced and the retail food sector decides there is enough business to co-opt the idea behind these community efforts. As this may become public again(!), I will also share that when this leadership opened Hollygrove “farm” in 2008 ish, I sent a strongly worded message to them that I felt the mission and message were muddy and the farmers and harvesters would end up losing through their plan to become an aggregator and distributor without understanding the costs or scope of such an endeavor. Sadly, that is exactly the case.

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

Props to a seed carrier

….In the heart of the feminine nature of Seed Carriers lives the instinctual calling to be intentionally aware of the essence and influence of every thought and emotion, of each spoken word and action taken. Our personal and collective future – all that comes to be – grows out of our here and now choice-making.

So what do you want to be seeding…
…in your life?
…on the earth?
…for the generations to come?

Copyright © 2011 JoAnne Dodgson


A friend left us this week. True to her life, the news was quietly passed from friend to friend with everyone wishing they could talk with her just once more and could smile at her, thereby passing joy back to her. We were all flabbergasted that she was the one who was taken, as she was a healer with a very strong life force.  But as sherecently said  in her gentle way:

We’re all going to get something.

I don’t have to be the impervious, always healthy Tai Chi teacher.

I am simply a human being.

That illness should not define her – even her passing –  so I won’t focus on it except to say she handled it with courage and grace and love and used it to share her very personal but teachable moment to us all.

Marilyn Yank. That is her name. I always liked her name. It suited her: a bit formal yet graceful with a strong old-world finish.

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Photo by Cheryl Gerber for Gambit

I met Marilyn when she moved to New Orleans with her partner, Anna Maria Signorelli. Anna Maria was a New Orleanian and they moved here partly because all New Orleanians are unhappy when away from here, and partly because Marilyn had taken over the care of her ailing father and the Signorelli family was here to depend on. And the weather was warm and sunny and moist most of the time and the two of them were deeply dedicated to farming the land. Maybe there were other reasons too that I am unaware of that mattered. They had come from Austin where Anna Maria had taken the helm of the Sustainable Food Center after its dynamic founder had moved to policy work. Marilyn was working on the La Cochina Alegre project there and a team was born. I remember Marilyn told me they lived in a tent together while learning sustainable farming in Santa Cruz and once they made it through that, she knew they were partners.

Once back here, Anna Maria was immediately in her element.  I assume that she was like that when they were in Austin too cuz she is a powerhouse especially (as Marilyn always observed) when she has a team around her. Marilyn took it slow, marveling aloud as only she could about the intricacies of life here and her partner’s large Sicilian family’s wonderful togetherness. We met because a mutual friend, the thoughtful Max Elliot for those of you in urban agriculture here, in Austin, or in Shreveport, helped them put together a small group of activists to talk about building a network for food and farming in New Orleans.

We had a few meetings in Marilyn and Anna Maria’s meditation center, AMMA, so named for their combined names and the word for nurse or spiritual mother. We sat cross-legged in a circle and talked about our visions and beliefs and then after a few meetings, a few of us got a little antsy and asked if we could meet in a more active space. I remember Marilyn being fascinated and bemused by the request as her activism was rooted in her quietness and centeredness. Her movement work was also illustrated by a story she told me of the people in an Asian country who had firmly and publicly set the goal that they would become a society totally absent of violence – in 1000 years. The point was that every tiny and personal step they made towards that goal now  was meaningful, and to expect total success in one’s lifetime laughable.

I also remember  when Marilyn asked me to coffee at the fair trade coffeehouse after those first few meetings and said to me with what I came to know was her very direct but gentle way of asking a question: ” I have been wondering about you since we met. Do you mind?”

I did not mind and we bonded. Turns out she was originally from Detroit. I thought I recognized the steel backbone of a fellow rust belter under her beloved Southeastern desert style. Unlike many here, it didn’t really matter where she was from as her presence came from her embrace of the small shared whatever right in front of her – the moment, garden, food item, gesture, idea, linking it easily to the gigantic: her quiet assessment and acceptance of humanity’s and the natural world’s pace.

Her Little Sparrow urban farm was a turning point in the city, both in its description of the vision she had for it right there on the board on front and its urban market box program, the first of its kind around town.  There was an open invitation for people to carefully pluck food from its constant profusion of well-tended food and beauty although she encouraged some wildness to flourish on its edges too. The tropical climate got the best of her at times as a farmer and she was justly impressed by her dear friend Macon’s skill in growing food in this brutal climate, constantly championing  his patience and knowledge as a grower to anyone who would listen. Many growers directly owe their experience to her willingness to share hers as she would always credit her teachers like Macon’s willingness to share theirs.

With a group of around a dozen others (the aforementioned Max as the nucleus), she and Anna Maria built a lasting network of food and farming leaders, myself and Macon included. The work to grow this network of activists took years and could take pages here to recount my personal observations of her and Anna Maria’s resolve to see it happen. Sooner or later, just about everyone else involved in the founding either gave up or moved on to other work, except for Marilyn. She stayed in it as long as she was needed and as long as she thought she had something to offer.  In some form, that entire group owes most of its interconnectedness to Marilyn directly. Most of those founders are still honored colleagues of mine and some are also close friends, but all of us certainly remain fellow travelers who gladly remember those days  when we meet up again. I’d like to thank her again for her dedication to the group and the idea.

Even after I moved away from assisting directly with the work of the New Orleans Food and Farming Network that our little group had realized, she and I reconnected regularly and when we did, her stories were always of a lesson learned or a description of the path of a karmic connection that had been experienced since I had seen her last. Some were very personal and painful. I found that I easily shared more of my deepest thoughts and fears than I did with most others, maybe because of her reciprocity or because of her abilities to see without judgement, or at least to recognize the judgement and to self-correct. Or maybe because she expected kernels of truth and revelation as the unspoken agreement of friendship.

One of the best times I had with her and Anna Maria was recent: during the Louisiana floods of 2016, I wrote them because I knew they had moved to that farming area affected away from the city. She immediately wrote me back, telling me their house and property were indeed in the path of the rising water, so they were in the city until they heard. Would I have dinner with them? I did and we laughed and shared updates and drank glasses of wine and laughed some more. As we parted, the text came from their neighbors that the water had stopped rising only a few inches from the top step of their raised home so they were going to be okay. After sharing their relief, I thought about how they had been totally present and joyful all evening, never seeming to worry about their looming crisis.

As soon as I heard the news this week, I had a strong impulse to go out to a quiet green space and find a dandelion clock to blow its blossoms to the wind.  It struck me as I explored that thought that the dandelion is a flower, but a tough little one, with healing properties carried by the wind to the most unlikely places. Marilyn, you went far and wide and added much nourishment; carry on. I certainly will, using as much empathy and humor as I can muster, in honor of Marilyn.

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Bring your food waste to the library for composting

Food waste collection programs are being phased in at New Orleans public libraries.

I’m glad they also mention Greenmarket and their innovative compost collection program. What is significant about the NYC market program is that Greenmarket does not occupy their market spaces constantly, so managing programs like composting require added logistics for the staff.

In data collection terms for markets, this program can be measured for its ecological, economic, social and intellectual capital benefits.

Bring your food waste to the library for composting: Yes, really | NOLA.com

Patron saints of food, Mardi Gras style

Monday the 27th and Tuesday the 28th of February are the final days of two months of Carnival in New Orleans this year, which means it has been a particularly  long season! The season always begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th and ends the day before Ash Wednesday, known as “Fat Tuesday” or in French as Mardi Gras. This is because New Orleans essentially remains a Catholic city and takes Lent (more or less) seriously. Lent of course is the religious season to prepare for Easter.  The date of Easter changes because it is literally a “moveable feast ” (feast meaning religious observance, not food party!), linked to Passover which changes based on when the Passover (Paschal) full moon falls. (Wonderful to  see how many religious and secular traditions are based on the natural world’s rhythms..)

Today,  I am highlighting the local work of Dames de Perlage (Women of Beadwork) who used the theme of “Patron Saints of New Orleans” for their 2017 krewe. Each member spend their nights and “off-time” throughout the year designing and beading a new beaded corset and headdress and making the relevant costume based on the theme they choose after the previous Carnival. Each corset takes 150 or so more hours to make each.  This krewe marches with brass bands in a few parades and are a delight to see in person.

Great podcast with one of their krewe members describing the work they do and how parading works for those unfamiliar with them. Many of the riders and marching groups craft their throws and costume work in community get-togethers over the year. Pride in handmade items remains a vital part of the New Orleans culture as does the tradition of handing down skills.

These are some of the “saints” beadwork that I chose because of the connection to food and farming:

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Dan Gill, our longtime Extension Agent for Orleans Parish (county) and now a writer and radio host. answering everyone’s horticulture questions.

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This is amazing beadwork and costuming highlighting a Carnival/spring tradition: crawfish boils!

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The great chef Leah Chase is honored for her many contributions to New Orleans food and 7th ward culture. That is an excellent likeness of this great woman.

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This is my favorite one, and just coincidentally made by my pal Rachel. This is St. Satsuma which honors the citrus we see at markets starting in October and ending this week or next.

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Chef Paul Prudhomme, patron saint of jambalaya!