Crescent City Farmers Market programs give free food to mothers 

My home market organization continues to pilot new ways to include at-risk populations into their community. The staff shared with me that they studied the Sustainable Food Center’s work in Austin TX with CVB to design their pilot. This mock program will lead the state into seeing how WIC families benefit from markets in terms of social and intellectual capital as well as increasing their regular access to healthy food.

(The article seems to state that CCFM has been doing SNAP redemptions since 2008; actually it has been accepting EBT cards to redeem SNAP benefits since 2005 and doing market matches on different programs since before then, including a seafood bucks program and a FMNP reward program for seniors to spend once they spent their FMNP coupons. The incentive added to SNAP has been a program in existence at the market since around 2008.)

Market Umbrella deserves credit for its continued innovation and the staff and board’s willingness to constantly explore ways to increase their markets’ reach.

Crescent City Farmers Market programs give free food to mothers | NOLA.com

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Thanks, 700 Magazine Street

New Orleans-In 2016, Crescent City Farmers Market announced that the flagship Saturday morning farmers market – held at the corner of Magazine and Girod since 1995 – would need to find a new home by fall. As the new market era at Julia and Carondelet begins, one-time market staff and long-time shopper Dar Wolnik looks back on the muraled parking lot.

 

The circa 1991 mural of a coffee wagon heading to a small town store and Reily Foods’ Boatner Reily’s prized chinaberry tree set this parking lot apart from others in the CBD.

 

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The original mural. This part has since been destroyed by the developers.

 

In 1995, two of the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) founders – the recently departed and sorely missed Sharon Litwin and the geographically departed, sorely missed, but still kicking Richard McCarthy – realizing its potential for their upcoming market arranged to meet with the Reily Foods patriarch. Richard often shared the story of how when he completed his pitch, Boatner asked how much money he was requesting. Richard replied, “I don’t want your money, I want your parking lot Saturday mornings.” Reily was reportedly charmed by the request and gratified that his new mural and the carefully tended tree would serve as the host for this idea. Their handshake agreement lasted for 21 years until Boatner’s passing.

The lot and mural were attached to a one-story garage used on weekdays by the Reily Foods employees.

 

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The garage mural and the garage as seen from Girod Street. The Magazine Street entrance to the parking lot is to the middle right of the photo. There is also a mural on the wall to the left of this photo, some of which was preserved by the developers.

 

The warehouse district used to be full of buildings just like it, but just like this one’s fate in the very near future, they were torn down for shiny, much taller buildings. The garage has a large central space where the rainy day markets were held, with storage rooms around its edges and an off-limits parking area at the back.

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Inside the garage

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The flower ladies stop for a quick discussion on an “inside” market day.

 

The inside garage was affectionately nicknamed “Little Calcutta” for the humidity and humanity it contains when used by the market, partly because it was only used on rainy days.  One of the larger garage doors hadn’t opened since early 2005; it’s an old sliding doorway that used to be opened for needed airflow and an added entry but after a while, the track became rusted and trash-filled and the market vendors learned to avoid market staff when we went to get help to open or to close it.  Certain spots in the roof would drip during heavy rains and vendors learned to set up just to the right or left. We actually marked the floor to make it easier until finally, the roof was repaired. I think actual lights were added then too, all of which made it seem like Santa Claus had finally stopped by to reward our good behavior. Or maybe it was that we just got around to asking the owners for those things. Sometimes it’s hard to know what and when to ask for when a place is offered free of charge and comes with donated cans of coffee too.

Certain spots in the roof would drip during heavy rains and vendors learned to set up just to the right or left. We actually chalk-marked the floor to make it easier to know how to avoid the deluges until finally, the roof was repaired. I think actual lights were also added by Reily Foods then too, all of which made it seem like Santa Claus had finally stopped by to reward our good behavior. Or maybe it was that we just got around to asking the owners for those things. Sometimes it’s hard to know what and when to ask for when a place is offered free of charge and comes with donated cans of coffee too.

We used to dream of spiffing up the garage by whitewashing the walls and adding murals or posters, but as we say here, then Katrina happened. No other explanation should be needed.

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This was the newer storage space.

The storage room used by the market was a loose description of a room at all, and had a lock on the door that probably could have been broken by an excited m dog jumping up on the frame. It also came with an air shaft/skylight in the middle of the room that supplied the only light in there. Sometimes it was better to work in the dark so that whatever critters who lived in the gloom could not be seen. I still shudder thinking about it. The current staff doesn’t believe me when I tell them that this storage space was a step up from the previous one that we finally had to evacuate. Once out of the old space, I don’t believe anyone has ever entered it again.

The outdoor lot was the true home of the CCFM though. The Girod side was open to the sidewalk with only an asphalt dip and some yellow parking barriers between. When the market was at its largest size (summer 2004-2005) vendors had to set up facing the sidewalk on that side. We found that asking farmers to squeeze into spaces with their tables touching or almost touching their fellow vendors tables was a tricky and delicate undertaking and that it was often easier to ask them to fill secondary space. I am sure that is no surprise to any market manager.

The other two sides of the lot contained the mural which became the gorgeous backdrop to the market.

In pictures, it offered an unrealistic sense of the size of the market and I often saw visitors who came to pay homage a little disappointed at the size of the actual market. I’d approach them and introduce myself and almost invariably get the “It’s…smaller than I thought it would be.” The mural could also be a point of tension as the market organization was tasked with its protection during market hours, leading to constant reminders to vendors who liked to lean things against it. The wall made the spaces right below shady for some hours, which was welcome in the summer but not in the winter. Funny to watch people congregate in different places in the market depending on the season, just like cats searching for that spot with the perfect amount of warm sun or cool shade.

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The small size of the lot meant that vendors had to “offload” their products, using the ancient, creaky Reily hand trucks or by carrying items from the vehicle one armful at a time to their tables outside. In the early days, everyone used umbrellas and one of the green, handmade tables supplied by the market making the overall site colorful and human-scaled. Once 10’ x 10” pop-up tents became available, vendors began to use those instead and a sea of white became the dominant sight. That is until the number of vendors increased and led to fights about tent poles intruding on the neighboring space and as a result, vendor tents had to be done away with although the market itself still used them for their activities. Umbrellas returned, the mural was front and center again and vendors spent many successive mornings constantly readjusting them to maximize the shade and to secure them from gusts or from wildly gesturing shoppers. I know that Richard was secretly pleased by the loss of tents, as he was always obsessed with the visuals of what we were presenting. He found umbrellas so inviting that he even renamed the organization Market Umbrella when we left Loyola University and our ECOnomics Institute name behind in 2008.

At its maximum in those years, the market welcomed a few thousand shoppers during its four hours of sales that offer a stage for successive casts of characters. Like most long-standing markets, the opening hour of 8 a.m. was for those seasoned shoppers who knew where to park, what they wanted to buy and how to get the heck outta there before the perusers came at 9 a.m. Those second-hour folks liked to chat, stick around a while and usually bought what was most appealing on that day or recommended to them right then by their friends or their favorite farmers. They grumbled about parking a great deal. After that group headed to the next cultural outing of the day, the service workers and other late-nighters slowly showed up. The number of bikes locked on all available posts and groups of bleary-eyed socializers squeezing into any available seating were good indicators of the 10 o’clock hour starting. In the last hour, one saw some tourists, those new to markets as well as a few hard-core regulars who like many New Orleanians simply do not get out of the house until around the lunch hour.

Many more subgroups, special guests and even some “bad pennies,” all of whom made that space sparkle and hum every Saturday morning for 21 years, could be studied there as the sum of the social capital created by the market. We market staff often took the time to do just that, either from the vantage point of the low Reily building roof across Girod or while standing across the street on Magazine.

We valued that space so much that, as we began to design our fair trade/handmade market in 2002 that we called “Festivus, the Holiday Market For the Rest of Us,” we never questioned setting it up there, in the middle of Girod Street in years 1 and 2 and then on December Sundays in the same parking lot for years 3, 4 and 5 of Festivus’ run. Festivus was meant to drive sales to our farmers market during slow December and to allow our organization to move the dial a little more on the artisanal/entrepreneurial movement around us. Using the same lot for a new seasonal market meant we had freedom to design it differently and to include more wacky ideas than we could squeeze into our regular market. Many people still stop me from reminiscing about the Office of Homeland Serenity, the Grievance Pole, and the Flattery Booth or some of the other moments of the 2003-2007 era of Festivus.

I consider it my great honor to have played a part in Market Umbrella’s history at that location, to have worked with the Reily Company staff and to now to be one of the local keepers of the stories about Sharon and Richard and John and the vendors and shoppers of those first days and of that space. The space itself is owed many thanks and so don’t be alarmed if at the first light on a Saturday, you notice a small group there with a bottle and glasses toasting the good fortune of having 700 Magazine as our flagship home for all of those years.

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New location at Julia and Carondelet, on the streetcar line as of 2016.

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 I was the Deputy Director of Market Umbrella and then its Marketshare Director during 2001-2011. Since then, I continue to work as a national consultant for public markets and also as the senior researcher at Farmers Market Coalition, the national farmers market advocacy organization.

It was 20 years ago today…

…that Crescent City Farmers Market began to have it’s say. September 30, 1995 is remembered by many as the first day of the food and market movement in New Orleans and really, the entire region. And it all began with a market of 12 vendors (about half rural farmers and the rest urban growers), most of whom sold out in an hour or two.

Founded by three local activists of varied interests and backgrounds, John Abajian, Sharon Litwin and Richard McCarthy, CCFM has grown into a four-day per week, year-round anchor for regional food and public health activism with an impact in the tens of millions.

To get a sense of the evolution here are some of the most significant moments captured among the many past press releases and some of my own memories:

circa 2000 (the second location at Uptown Square had opened only a few months earlier):

The Saturday and Tuesday Markets’ combined now average over 65 small-scale farmers, fishermen, community gardeners, food producers and over 2,000 shoppers each week. The farmers are now coming from three states and fishing families from all over southeast Louisiana. In a June 1999 economic impact study conducted by students at the A.B Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, it reveals that the Saturday morning market generates over $1 million in direct economic impact benefiting market vendors and downtown businesses, thus creating a new vision of regional cooperation.”

circa 2006 (the original plan to celebrate the 10th anniversary in 2005 was lost in the aftermath of the levee breaks of Hurricane Katrina, so the “Re10th” was held in 2006):

“On Saturday, August 27, 2005, market staffers Richard McCarthy and Darlene Wolnik were at the Saturday Market mapping out plans for autumn 2005: Saturday Market’s tenth anniversary… Plans were interrupted by the anxious talk of a little known storm that had just entered the Gulf of Mexico — Katrina. …On this anniversary date, the Saturday Market invites members of the culinary diaspora to return home to the mother of all markets in the region. While the family of Crescent City Farmers Markets is half of its pre-storm size of four, co-founder Richard McCarthy explains, “Give it time; we now have twice the verve.

circa 2010 (The market had reopened its third market earlier in the year, the first in a previously flooded neighborhood and created the first of its kind, a market incentive program for fishing community families undone by the April BP oil spill, funded by Wholesome Wave.

Interestingly, at this anniversary Market Umbrella was just a baby, as it had finally became its own 501(c) organization in 2008 after spending the first 14 years at Loyola University as the ECOnomics Institute, housed at the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice):

As it celebrates its 15th anniversary, Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) hosts a four-course dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico  Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. Chef Spencer Minch will use seasonal ingredients from CCFM farmers to prepare the meal.

circa 2015 (market organizers gave buttons to the vendors noting how long each had been a vendor of the market to wear on the 20th anniversary. A few of those):

“Can you believe it’s been 20 years since we first opened our umbrellas at the muraled Reily parking lot at Magazine and Girod? When Richard McCarthy, Sharon Litwin and John Abajian co-founded the Crescent City Farmers Market in 1995, they aimed to create a public space where New Orleanians could meet, greet, and make groceries that were fresh and produced locally…Join us this Saturday as we raise a toast to 20 years of the Crescent City Farmers Market. We’ll have music from the Roamin’ Jasmine starting at 9 a.m. and cake from Rivista and beet lemonade from Amanda to pass around at 10 a.m. You may even see some old faces coming out to make an appearance.”

Raise your glass to another 20 years.

Crescent City Farmers Market | 2015 Lenten Louisiana Seafood CSF

New Orleans, of course, has a Community Supported Fisheries program at their markets which is a byproduct of the White Boot Brigades that the organization ran pre and post Katrina to help fishermen sell more catch at the height of season. We (we because I was staff back then) first heard about CSF programs from (if memory serves) the Los Angeles chef Mary Sue Milliken at a Share Our Strength Rebuilding New Orleans discussion at the French Market in 2006. And, of course, the New Orleans CSF program runs through Lent-so clever.Crescent City Farmers Market | 2015 Lenten Louisiana Seafood CSF.

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.

The Crescent City Farmers Market Regains Its Pre-Katrina Footprint

As of this week, markets in my city are once again open four days per week with local farmers and fishers selling directly to family-table shoppers and to restaurant buyers. That is important to note as it was the weekend before the federal levee breaks of August 2005 that it was last true.
On that long-ago weekend, CCFM closed its Saturday market early and told its community that most of the next week of markets would also be cancelled, meaning the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday markets. Our lead market staff was away so I was directly supervising the market that Saturday. I remember well sadly hugging my vendors as they packed up and knowing some would not immediately return, depending on where the storm would hit. Little did we know that it would be the market locations and the market shoppers that would be its victims and we would not reopen a market at all until November 22, 2005* which at the time seemed like forever but now seems unbelievably speedy.
Hard to believe that it has been nine years since the entire slate of markets were open. Much has happened within the market organization and to the region in those nine years, an almost dizzying amount of changes really. What is gratifying as a market shopper, as a French Quarter resident and as a market advocate is that the new leadership of the organization has decreed that we must return to that weekly market schedule.
Huzzah and pass the satsumas.

The Wednesday market opened originally at the French Market on Wednesday March 19, 2003 which coincided with St. Joseph’s Day and therefore with a beautiful display and event coordinated (as usual) by Poppy Tooker, then our regional Slow Food Leader and now a noted cookbook author and tv/radio personality. Like all of the markets we opened (and that includes a short-lived one at Loyola University in 2001 as well as 5-years of Festivus, our fair trade market and our many White Boot Brigades (thanks again Poppy), we had to create a new set of circumstances for the Wednesday market to exist and to thrive in. In fact, in the two years that market was open, until the aftermath of Katrina shut it down we rebuilt it almost entirely just as we had with in the early days of the Tuesday and Thursday markets.

Here's what I learned from this market's opening that may be replicable to other markets, especially those with a similar chronology:
1. Be sure that you can handle all of the markets with the staff size that you have and can handle. That seems obvious, but running four markets suddenly required new or greatly expanded systems and not just another market bag and tent! Three markets from two was not that different as there was still a day in between and some vendors could do three markets per week but four was a very different matter. And since the systems we had set up for three markets expected our very hardworking staff for a least a half day of market planning and a half day of post-production per market (that is, without the large events which we were known for back then) it meant that two managers or two on-site coordinators were now absolutely necessary to do it right and that meant a very different organization, especially one within a slow-moving university system as we were then.

2. Every market needs anchor vendors. Those anchor vendors have to view that market as key to their weekly business (not a secondary market in other words) and commit to making it work for a period of time. This was definitely a problem on and off in our region as businesses with the skills and products to really anchor a market are not that easy to come by and so end up anchoring way too many at once, and then dropping markets rather quickly. Learn who your anchor vendors are (hint-it’s not always the biggest or even only farm goods!) and build the market initially on their strengths and for their shoppers.

3. Know the similarities and difference of your market neighborhoods and demographics. The third and fourth markets opened in downtown neighborhoods of the city, which has a very different demographic than the neighborhoods in which the first two operate. They also were physically smaller in potential size (could fit about half of the vendors of the first two markets) and had little or no parking available, which was also not true of the first two markets. Shoppers downtown were less likely to shop our other markets (as we learned from surveys) and more likely to want value-added goods which meant a different market vibe and outreach plan.

4. Acknowledge the barriers that truly exist. The French Market was and is hallowed ground for any New Orleanian, but also ground spoiled by long time bureaucracy (which by the way, turned out to be more intractable that even we thought). That long memory among residents made our work difficult, especially without any other changes in the existing market behind us. People insisted on telling us everything that had been wrong with the French Market, and their resentment was felt by our farmers and fishers, who since they also felt the same were easily deflated and dejected at market. If we had recognized that barrier was insurmountable to many of our long time farmers market shoppers (which is why they were so loyal to us in the earliest days!) and to some of our vendors, we could have spent more time working to build new shoppers and vendors. The shoppers we began to attract the last 6 months included new residents without the attachment to the FM history, seniors who loved the hours and the downtown location and the ease of shuttle delivery and pickup, the waiters and bartenders and second-shift workers, the French Quarter denizens who love to see and be seen, the chefs who believed in the market no matter where it was and so on. The vendors who began to do well loved their new enthusiasm and were able to refine their product lists to suit those new shoppers. Those who did not or could not adapt packed up or in some cases, stayed to try to make it and fumed at us and sometimes at the shoppers, knowing there were not enough yet and often too new to markets to purchase enough to sustain their extensive business needs. If we had started with that strategy, we would have wasted less of our and less of our vendors valuable time that first years and a half.

5. Something I knew before opening that market but we needed to make more clear to everyone: it takes 2-3 years for a market to stabilize. Don’t sweat the ups and downs of the first few years, just learn quickly and build for the day that it does thrive. And don’t punish the first group of shoppers by changing everything within six months to attract “better”shoppers-ask questions, survey those that come and keep on adding appropriate amenities and products to attract more of that community, to have them spend more and to add other like-minded shoppers.

With all of that in mind, I believe the market organization as it exists today has the embedded institutional skills and the partners (like the new leadership at the French Market) to regain the food system primacy that dissipated in those dark months and years of rebuilding, dissipated partly because of circumstances such as the need to reorganize the organization (2008), the BP spill (2010), Hurricane Isaac (2012), the end of the “Katrina economy” (2013-2014) and maybe most of all, the development of the “new New Orleanians” (2010-). From my view, the organization’s interest in finding the right answers for local farmers and fishers for the next iteration of New Orleans has rightly began with the organization’s original farmers market blueprint. However, I hope that they will also push past that history to make an even bigger and better future for themselves and their market community and when it comes, they know I’ll be there with tokens in hand.

Link to the Crescent City Farmers Market’s excellent website

*here is a glimpse of that first day back, November 22, 2005:

Diana Pinckley remembered

The event listed below is to happen this week and was excerpted from my home Crescent City Farmers Market “morsel” as they call their weekly email:
Diana Pinckley passed away in 2012; she was an irreplaceable member of our community and one sorely missed for her leadership and her friendship, both always given easily to so many.
The regard for her found on any market day in New Orleans can and should be multiplied in the thousands to stand in for all of the many initiatives or events that she supported across our region. The people I know through her represent her well: willing to give their time and talent and always remembering to be joyful.
Thanks, Pinckley. I’m honored to raise a glass for you this weekend and pleased to represent farmers markets where we remember and honor our people.

Raise a Glass to Pinckley with CCFM! |
FRESH & LOCAL
Each year we choose one of our local food heroes – a farmer, chef, culinary educator, devoted farmers market shopper or local food system champion – to be the face of our market tokens. This Saturday, we’ll unveil our 2014 market token and celebrate the life of long-time CCFM shopper and supporter, community activist and mentor to so many working to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Diana Pinckley. “Pinckley”, as she was known to close friends, loved mystery novels, bluegrass and the color purple. In addition to her work as a public relations executive, communications strategist and book reviewer, Pinckley shared her time and talent with many New Orleans civic organizations. She was a member of “Women of the Storm” and one of CityBusiness‘s Women of the Year in 2006. She served on the New Orleans Council for Young Children, the Committee of 21, the board of the Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education, the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans task force and was chairwoman of the board of the CCFM. She raised money for WWNO-FM and was an active volunteer at WWOZ-FM. She passed away in September 2012. New Orleans is a better place because of Diana Pinckley. Please join us, her husband John Pope and friends to raise a glass at 10am, tap your toes to the music of Lost in the Holler and celebrate the life of one of the CCFM’s most cherished friends. Purple attire encouraged.