Share with Charlottesville

I hope National Farmers Market Week was productive in your area. I hope your market received great support both from your community’s producers and its shoppers. I hope the media covered whatever event you hosted at your market. Good job everyone on spreading the news of our continued and expanding impacts.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for at least one market last weekend: the Charlottesville City Market, which was open for business on Saturday during the tragic events that happened two blocks away. Vendors and shoppers had courageously decided to show up, knowing the tense build-up over the past few days to the scheduled rally that afternoon. The market was attempting to do once again what it has done for many years: connect and comfort its citizens through the shared love of regional food and the championing of local creative output.

Instead, the name of its town is currently synonymous with riots and murder and the safety of its downtown with its lovely parks and pedestrian mall will be questioned, as it is likely to be threatened by more events like the ones that the world watched with horror last weekend.

I know this market. I have shopped there, gathered data there and discussed the hopes and dreams of its organizers and its vendors when there. It is like a great many of our markets across the country, located on underused weekend space, open to anyone and everyone, full of gorgeous produce and hand-crafted items proudly displayed by its makers. It is managed by the city and has been operating since the early 1970s, making it a “first wave” markets in my timeline of market eras.

This is what one regular market goer, William J. Antholis, Director and CEO of the Miller Center at UVA wrote about the market on this day:

My wife and I took our daughters for a walk around the protests, four blocks south (of their home), to the farmer’s market on the other side of the historic, pedestrian-only Downtown Mall. Immediately, we felt the sense of danger as fully armed white supremacist protestors walked dangerously close to counter-protestors. Taunts were already being hurled in both directions.

When we arrived at the market, we were surprised to find it eerily quiet. The market is usually packed on a Saturday morning. Row after row of beautiful heirloom tomatoes sat undisturbed, in a rainbow array of colors. Bread stands and coffee stands and local artisans had plenty of product, and not enough customers.

Stacy Miller, Farmers Market Coalition’s former Executive Director, has lived in Charlottesville for six years and is among the vendors at Charlottesville
City Market. Nervous about the potential for violence (and anticipating a slow
sales day, she said), she withdrew her participation several days before.

Several other vendors shared messages of solidarity and commitment to be there ‘come hell or high water’ on our public Facebook group. One said, specifically, “We won’t stand down for these terrorists! They come to our town uninvited and unwanted!… We will stand our grounds, with our fellow vendors and friends, against fascism, against xenophobia, against oppression!” While I certainly shared the sentiment, and I made sure to visit the market early to do my own shopping and wish good luck to those still setting up, I was eager to get back home, readying for other plans later that day. A helicopter (which may have been the same one crashing later that day) was already circling loudly overhead and would become my background noise nearly all day, as we barricaded into our little apartment. Thankfully, my husband was not working at the hospital that day, and we updated each other from various media sources, texts, and Twitter as things escalated, with photos of Nazis “indiscriminately” beating black youths in a parking garage. As my son napped (and, presumably, dreamed) 20 feet away, we quietly watched jerky, just-taken videos and photos of the black Charger with Ohio plates plowing through people on the downtown mall four blocks away, at an intersection I walked almost daily.”

When I read those quotes, I have to confess I had a little PTSD from my days of organizing New Orleans’ markets during hurricane seasons. As a matter of fact, on the Saturday before the landfall of Katrina our market manager, Tatum Evans was off so I was in charge of the day. The newscasters had told us on Thursday that the storm was to veer to Florida and any impact in the city would be negligible, so at that point, most locals stopped watching hour by hour updates.
Of course, since I was managing a market, I continued to monitor the weather and noticed the size of the storm and the lack of major movement eastward. I called vendors on Friday and told them they had the option of staying home, with no rent penalties for missing the day. Still, most showed up and as the day wore on, the tension in and around the market was palpable and the small number of shoppers also obvious. Stories of lines forming for gas and of panic rising around the city began to weigh on me and on our Executive Director Richard McCarthy who was calling me every half hour. Finally at 10:30, I closed the market.

I tell you that because as a result of that and other tense mornings in New Orleans, I felt the market’s anxiety in Charlottesville all the way down here in Louisiana, and I am sure many of you did too.

The use of public space for a public market is a heavy responsibility. Not only does one have to manage tender young businesses and seasoned ones side by side, but also shoulder the responsbility of managing risks of slip and falls, theft, disagreements, weather, dog bites and more crop up constantly.
And this last weekend, we saw once again that even when all of that is managed well, the danger around a market can still overwhelm its good intentions and positive vibe. (Update from C-ville market folks: The market was finally forced to close early because of the nearing clashes and the helicopters circling right overhead, making it impossible to communicate.)

I don’t really have a lesson to impart here. I just wanted to send my admiration to the Charlottesville City Market, to its manager Justin and to the entire team at the market, to its hard working vendors and its loyal shoppers and tell them that to me, YOU are Charlottesville. You are what I think about even as your city’s name is plastered across every news site and linked forever to a very, very bad day in American history.
I know that your market will once again become the center of health, wealth and good civic engagement. As a matter of fact, you will become that as early as next Saturday.
People will gather and hug and probably shed some tears in your lot. They will ask vendors how they are and vendors will ask that of their shoppers. Shoppers will tell vendors they hope they remain committed to coming to their downtown market and vendors will ask the same of their shoppers. The very best of what we do with farmers markets will become evident to everyone in Charlottesville over the next few weeks and months. Media will come to show “normal” activity returning and the market will know to embrace that opportunity and use it to encourage people to leave their homes and connect once again on Saturday mornings.
I know this because it is what happened to us during those months of darkness in 2005-2010.
And I know I was changed because of the love and care that the market community showed everyone here. I believe that markets do something that few other entities or ideas do in modern America: they build and keep community across age, background, political divides and socioeconomic status. I am proud to be part of that.
So let’s send out some good community energy to our friends in Charlottesville; I guarantee they’ll appreciate it.

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Food court or food hall: is there a difference?

I guess to answer my own question I think there may be at least two instructive differences: one is that the food hall is about food and social space and not simply an amenity offered while doing other retail shopping; second, the quality of the food is meant to be more artisanal or at least, of a higher quality than what most U.S. food courts offer. The food hall may be what James Rouse had in mind when he began to develop the festival marketplace decades back. Unfortunately, just like that idea, the food hall will probably soon be used to describe every half-formed pitch for food aggregation that doesn’t really mean the same thing at all.

In one new food hall in New Orleans, the location had served as a public market long ago and is still owned by the city (St. Roch Market), but since 2005, the city had struggled with finding anyone who would manage the site to offer food to the neighborhood; one issue was the price tag needed to renovate the structure that the city wanted to split with the user. Another was the lack of parking and (small) size. Still, in terms of conversation among locals about how it should be used, it was a very hot property. I was even asked to write about this particular site  before the food hall idea had been fully formed:

Finally, the city did a smaller renovation on their own and chose a young entrepreneur to develop it from the white box they offered. Since its opening, it has become a bit of a lightning rod about trendy food places and gentrification. It has its defenders, mostly millennials and visitors to the city, who use it for easy-to-plan group meet-ups with food and drink.

Some of the original group of vendors chosen have already moved on and some of their issues led one alternative paper to accuse the operators of cronyism. Other vendors have moved to other locations better suited to their demographic or operational needs.
Then there was a late-night graffiti spree caught on video that started another round of pros and cons on the site’s current use while on the edge of one poor neighborhood and directly across from a more gentrified one.
I have heard that since the opening of St. Roch the operator is being asked to develop 2-3 more of these food halls, with at least one in New Orleans and another in Florida.

Clearly, this trend requires some watching for food organizers and maybe some local analysis.
BI story on food halls

 

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.

 

West Side Market adds another day… …and some disagreement

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As many of my readers know, I spent my early years in the west suburbs of Cleveland. Like many of us, I occasionally trucked over to the West Side Market to buy special items or to soak up the atmosphere-actually, maybe the right word is rarely.

Luckily for me, I moved to the nearby Tremont neighborhood while a poor community organizer in the 1980s and 1990s and had more access to the market. My friends and I used the market quite regularly, as without it gas stations and a very dirty grocery store many dangerous blocks from us were our available shopping outlets. As we became regulars, many of the WSM vendors shared their end of day produce with us at a lower price or even threw in some items with our purchase. Later on, my nephew worked there while a teenager with a pal of my sister’s and since he had to be at work in the pre-dawn hours on the weekends moving meat up and down the stairs, now knows what hard work looks and feels like.

So for those reasons I keep up on the news from this market so closely and why changes to it remain deeply personal to me. The changes that are being made, like paid parking and more days open, sound like they are to support the nearby businesses around the market more than those within the market- not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, just that it seems like the city is mostly responding to external pressures. I will say however, that for a public market to be closed on Sundays has always surprised me. I’d have preferred to see Mondays and Tuesdays as their dark days.

Achieving balance between the needs of the neighborhood and of the vendors and shoppers is the most important task and, as any market organizer knows, is a delicate dance. Some of the comments in these articles from the vendors are implying a purely political reason for this change, others are willing to believe this is a good marketing idea in a constantly changing retail environment while still others are intractable in not changing the tradition of Sunday hours and even believe that it will only dilute Saturdays sales. (That may very well be a valid point that I will of course answer with they should be collecting data on their shoppers to know and be able to answer that question.) Shoppers’ opinions tend to line up on more days are better, which is certainly understandable. The parking woes that exist currently for shoppers are likely a large reason for people staying away and so more days open may solve that issue temporarily, but probably not permanently.

I think what is missing in the announcements is the clear plan for this market and for these vendors by the management and advisors. Is the WSM becoming part of the cafe/entertainment culture that has grown up around it and therefore expected to primarily serve it? Or is the WSM part of the robust local food culture in Cleveland and meant to align itself with those values? Or do the operators see the WSM as an anchor for small business in and of itself?

As a traditional shed market, a primary purpose must be defined and acted upon in their decision-making process because unlike pop up (open-air) markets, it cannot move and/or redefine itself easily. It must constantly draw people to its bulk through changing times and offer enough regular return to those permanent stall vendors who have also invested in shared infrastructure.

How this change was handled in Cincinnati at the Findlay Market  a few years back seemed unfortunate and led to a very public argument that meant the market had some bad vibes around it for a little while, but indications show that the changes there may have helped their growth. However, it is important to recognize that the entire area around Findlay is seeing increased vibrancy with millennials and urbanists repopulating  OTR and downtown and so this success may have little to do with its added hours. I do think the management and supporters did some great work supporting that expansion.

Certainly, there it is difficult or even impossible to achieve full agreement for almost any decision made by a market organization, but collecting data and using it to redefine the market’s mission and understand its context historically, now and for the future will help make the right decision clearer.

And yes, I’ll shop on Sundays rather than Saturdays whenever I am back in Cleveland to leave my Saturdays for the direct marketing farmers markets around town.

http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2016/03/west_side_market_will_add_sund.html

http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2010/10/changes_considered_for_histori.html

NOLa ‘food port’ Roux Carré opened Nov. 27 

I’m a big fan of the entity that operates this project in Central City. What is interesting on a sytem level is that, just like another neighborhood in town, there are actually two different projects focused on food access there. (In the other neighborhood you can view St. Roch Market and Mardi Gras Zone to see what I mean. And compare the NOLA Food Coop for good measure, as all three are within 8-9 blocks of each other.)

On OCH, the Roux Carre project shares the street with another project that I wrote of recently, the Dryades Public Market. On paper, it might seem that these two have a lot in common, but in reality I think how they were formed, and by whom and what items they sell are quite different. I plan on spending some time there this month to check them both out and will post some pictures.

And how do you like the term “food port”?

Caribbean, Latin and Southern-inspired food court on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard

Each vendor has a 175-square-foot “pod” to set up its operation, and a retractable window opens into the space from where they can sell their food. A large, industrial-size communal kitchen includes ovens, a flat grill, stoves and prep space and storage.

By getting low-cost and low-overhead entry, aspiring restaurant owners are able to build a following for their food while receiving training in food service, retailing, accounting and payroll. There is no limit to how long a vendor may stay at the location, although Cassidy suspects most want to take off on their own eventually.

“It’s really an incubator for these small businesses,” Cassidy says. “They’re all really good cooks; we want them to learn how to really run a restaurant, so, if they want, they can leave here and do that.”

Source: Central City ‘food port’ Roux Carré opens Nov. 27 | Blog of New Orleans | Gambit – New Orleans News and Entertainment

Marché international de Rungis

Here’s a sneak peek inside Paris’ massive market with 450 types of cheese and more.

You’ll also notice a box of carrots, scrubbed clean, but then sprinkled with a fine dusting of dirt for aesthetic reasons — to reflect the increased demand for organic products. “Parisians buy with their eyes,” one vendor explains.

You can find everything at Rungis, even exotic foodstuffs like ostrich, zebra and crocodile. Interestingly, you’ll never see prices displayed at Rungis as they’re negotiated based on the buyer-seller relationship.

Traceability is really important — you know exactly where your products are coming from — and trailblazing initiatives include an impressive recycling program which provides energy and heating for Orly airport.

Beyond the magnificent goods, you’ll marvel at the work culture. Just under 12,000 people work at Rungis and it’s a jovial, jolly place. Folks love what they do, and you can see merchants socializing over coffee or verres de vin (glasses of wine) in the early morning hours. In fact, the café Saint-Aubert outside the poultry pavilion sells the most cups of coffee in France: 3,000 a day.

Source: Marché international de Rungis