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!

Helen Hill

Today is the sad anniversary of organizer/writer/filmmaker Helen Hill’s murder. New Orleanians, Canadians, South Carolinians, Californians and a slew of other oddballs and creative types are thinking of our dear Helen today.

Helen was daughter, sister,  mother, wife, friend. Her murder sent shock waves through dozens of communities that many will never recover from, partly because there was not a more loving or angelic human (although with a sensible streak of mischief when needed) than Helen. Partly because in true New Orleans fashion, the police never even turned up a suspect. Partly because her work was stopped, work so important that it has since been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

Helen and her husband Paul came to me because of food, so that’s why this is here. I became active in the local Food Not Bombs actions which they had helped to “organize” or more appropriately, to encourage.  I had many fascinating conversations with them about tactics we might employ to be able to wrest food scraps from stores, including from Whole Foods. That conversation was ongoing because I worked there part-time, along with my other then part-time job at the farmers market. (That’s not as odd as it seems now because that WF location’s beginning actually predates the Austin behemeth’s ownership, back when it had been a New Orleans-only coop called Whole Foods Company. Even after the corporation bought it, it remained a funky local treasure, so my working there and at the market at the same time for a short time was not that farfetched.)

Their vegan potlucks were legendary, as were her vegan tea parties. Paul and Helen also knew my market boss, fellow vegetarian activist Richard McCarthy, and through him had begun to bring their pig Rosie to our market events. I remember once Helen called me before a scheduled visit to ask details as to where Rosie would be set up; turns out she was worried that Rosie would be within sight of meat vendors and would be distressed. I was at first amused, thinking she was slightly joking, but of course she was not. Sobering up, I assured her that every precaution would be taken for Rosie to be happy and comfortable that day. Forever after, Helen treated me as Rosie’s protector.

I was thrilled like many others when news came of their return to New Orleans after Katrina. Helen had asked many to send postcards to Paul to convince him to return. Happily, he did; sadly, that return was so very short.

This link is to a film Helen made for Rosie about her genealogy. This one is about the life of chickens, a motif  she often used  in her art.

From her award-winning film Scratch and Crow:

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There are dozens and dozens of tributes to Helen, but viewing her films and hearing about her Poppy growing up under the wise and gentle hand of his father is the tribute she’d like  most of all. So please enjoy and share her lovely films whenever possible.

 

 

 

 

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 Boatner Reily’s prized chinaberry tree set the parking lot apart from others near it in the CBD. I wasn’t there in 1995 when 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,  happened upon the corner and 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.” He  was reportedly charmed by the request and gratified that his new mural and carefully tended tree would serve as the host for this idea. That handshake lasted for 21 years.

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

The inside garage was affectionately nicknamed “Little Calcutta” for the humidity and humanity it contains when used by the market.  One of the garage doors hasn’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 tracks became rusted and trash-filled. Finally, the market vendors learned how to avoid market staff when we went to get help to open or to close it. So we stopped using 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.

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.

The storage room used by the market was a loose description (see below), and had a lock on the door that probably could have been broken by an excited 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.

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This was the newer storage space.

The outside parking lot was the real home of the market though, with its hedges on the Magazine Street side that made it easy for drunks and street folks to use as a bathroom or to hide contraband in on a Friday night, leaving a horrified North Shore farmer to discover at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Those hedges were also ideal for hanging a temporary market sign and in limiting the “”leaky” entrances, as market organizers term those places where some enterprising visitors dart into, disconcerting those who expect everyone to enter at their front.

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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.

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 in to 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 to reminisce about the Office of Homeland Serenity, the Grievance Pole, 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.

 

 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.

Trader Joes shoppers and farmers markets: will they come?

As my colleagues wished me a happy birthday last week, they asked me what fun thing I had to do on my birthday: I told them that one of them was to go to the opening of the first Trader Joe’s in the area, which opened in the suburbs of New Orleans that very day. I am sure some that the choice of viewing a retail store was odd, but not only is grocery store obsession a very New Orleans thing, it is most certainly one of my favorite “busman’s holidays.” (I also went to the inaugural fried chicken festival on Sunday so don’t worry about me too much.) Here is my FB post:

Whew- made it to and back from Metairie to experience the opening weekend energy of Trader Joe’s.  As others have said, if you like packaged nuts or healthier freezer dinners or basic wines you will find some items here that you like. Honestly, I think this chain (in terms of regular shoppers) is for those who don’t love to shop for food or even want to think too much about food. If that’s you, this store will appeal.
Fruits and vegetables are not what they do well, but you’ll find a sale item once in a while, although having bananas priced as each (19 cents or 29 cents for organic) could be confusing to many, even though their thinking is sound: scales take up space, and lots of people only want a few at a time. That is a good price (as it comes to around 50-75 cents per pound) but not an amazing price as I think Circle Foods had them at 39 cents a pound last time I was there. 
TJ is prolly not going to become your only store and it’s not laid out to wander around in to get inspired….I’m glad it’s here, mostly cuz more healthy choices are now available and I don’t like it when one chain has a stranglehold over shoppers. I’ll pop in a while, but this chain still strikes me as odd and a pale version of stores like Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati http://www.epicurious.com/…/jungle-jims-grocery-store-ohio-…

Now, speaking as a farmers market consultant…

I think knowing who the core shoppers are for the stores around a market is very helpful. In many cases, research is available on the chains or a visit to the local store (at both its peak and at its slow time) can usually tell you about that store’s demographic.

To give an illustration, I have included some global demographic info from Whole Foods and Trader Joes as well as a few market shopper personas. Forgive the errors and the oversimplifications. The data on the stores comes from retail research available online. The market data comes from the many surveys and data collection reports I have either participated on or read. Do be aware that there are many subgroups within each of these to be explored.

Grocery store shoppers

Whole Foods:”Decentralized” systems: regional management, store team approach and “localized” inventory management

  • Whole Foods focuses on the per capita population that has college degrees. The key customer for the average Whole Foods location is a working parent that is between the age of 30 and 50.
  • From the Yougov site: The typical Whole Foods customer is a female between the ages of 25 and 39 with more than $1,000 in discretionary monthly income. She likely works in architecture or interior design. She doesn’t mind paying more for organic food and she tries to buy fair-trade products where available. Her interests include writing, exercising, and cooking. She would describe herself as ethical, sensitive, and communicative, but also admits to occasionally acting like a self-absorbed and demanding daydreamer. Her favorite foods are sushi and tea and she probably drives a Mercedes-Benz.

Trader Joe’s: Centralized, secretive inventory management, mostly direct from manufacturers and a detailed screening process for hiring.

  • Most research shows that the TJ shopper is the most likely chain in the U.S.  to be brand loyal and to recommend the store to others.
  • TJ Culture dips into the health food movement, the gourmet food, wine and booze craze, and the ever-popular discount ideal. But all in moderation. “Our favorite customers are out-of-work college professors,” says Tony Hales, captain of the store in Silver Lake. “Well-read, well-traveled, appreciates a good value.” The chain focuses on singles, small families looking for small package sizes.
  • 50% have college degrees. Almost half havean household income of 100,000.
  • Stores carry 2-3,000 SKUS versus 30,000 -50,000 in a normal supermarket. 80% of their items are private label.

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Louisiana Update #9: A post-flood visit with a market farmer

Spent Wednesday morning tagging along with Copper Alvarez on her BREADA Small Farm Fund site visit to Lucy Capdeboscq’s home and farm near Amite. Copper has been crisscrossing the state seeing farmers who are reporting losses from this month’s floods. It’s important to note that BREADA is not focused only on their market farmers needs, but doing their best to get funds to any market farmer across the state.  Although one of Lucy’s daughters had been one of Red Stick market vendors in the past, Lucy sells only at the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Markets down in New Orleans. As a result, she was surprised when Copper contacted her by phone, asked if she had damage and then offered an evaluation visit in case BREADA’s fund might be able to help.

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Of course, no decisions or promises are made during the visits about any support, but as Lucy commented, the contact and visit were very welcome. Crescent City Farmers Market is also reactivating their Crescent Fund and has already had Lucy fill out their short form to receive assistance. The Crescent Fund is hoping to raise enough money to handle the 8 or so CCFM market farmers who have indicated losses, by quickly offering up to $1,500 for their farm needs.

To get to Lucy’s place, one turns off the main road at the permanent sign indicating it is also the direction to the legendary Liuzza strawberry farm. Although their famous berries are still a few weeks from being planted, other products like cucumbers could be seen in some of their fields. When you know that Lucy is a Liuzza by birth , it is clear why she lives amid those fields, (just off Jack Liuzza Lane) on the land deeded her by her parents. She and her late husband Allen raised their children here and kept their land productive even when they took on other professional occupations.

Allen and Lucy joined the Crescent City Farmers Market shortly after it opened. The Caps (as their farm name is known) were a huge hit immediately due to  Lucy’s charming customer service and Allen’s practical sense for growing their traditional yet innovative items. Lucy’s arrangements of zinnias and lilies with her decorative okra, hibiscus buds and her legendary sunflowers have remained market favorites since those early days.  As Poppy Tooker wrote in the 2009 Crescent City Farmers Market cookbook: “Lucy and Al have built a reputation for forward thinking innovation. They were the first to try early harvested rapini and green garlic made so popular in California.”

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Lucy’s okra, used for her bouquets.

To me, the Caps are a quintessential market vendor type: growing traditional and newer South Louisiana products on a small piece of land behind their home within sight of other family members also still farming. As a matter of fact, on one of my visits to the farm years ago, Lucy told me how much she was looking forward to letting a shopper know that next Saturday that their favorite item had been planted that week and would soon be back at market. That deep awareness of specific customer likes seemed to me then (and still) to be the best illustration of the personal touch of direct marketing farming that I have come across in my site visits.

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Louisiana Update # 8: The natural cost

 

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The flood leaves a watermark stain on the tree’s leaves as U.S. Geological Survey surveyor Scott Hedgecock works to survey the water levels along the Tangipahoa River along Highway 190 just west of Robert, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson NOLA.com )

Climate change is not entirely accepted, even by those for whom it should be obvious possibly because it is not entirely understood.  People don’t feel its effects as they move in comfort from their air-conditioned personal vehicle to living amid a span of concrete around their glass-enclosed home away from coasts or forests, getting most of their information through a thumbnail headline or from friends who work and live in  the very same setting. In other words, living in industrialized countries.

Another culprit may be the environmental work done in the 1970s and 1980s, which often used unfamiliar phrases that lacked relevancy such as  global warming (or even the term used at the beginning of this post, climate change) and focused mostly on national policy changes or in shaming users of resources without compelling evidence of the effect of that reduction. Environmentalists were seen as “do-gooders” who meant well but lacked realistic goals (this was actual feedback from focus groups at an organization I worked for in the 1980s.)

The strong pushback showed the fallacy of engaging ordinary citizens using lofty or scientific terms and  led to many turning to food as an organizing tool. After all, what could be better as an impetus to understanding and sharing the repair of the natural world but food?

Yet in the roll call of environmentalists circa 2016, food system organizers are usually in the middle of the pack. Most can certainly outline the issues involved with food production that both imperil and reboot Mother Nature, but are rarely working directly on those issues in concert with environmental organizations. Farmers markets have done an admirable job on promoting entrepreneurial activity and improving access, but efforts to highlight the stewardship of the natural world by market farmers has fallen a little behind.

I hear our great writer Wendell Berry exhorting us to remember the farmers:

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

The  “eyes to acres” ratio suggested by Berry and Wes Jackson needs to be included in regional planning theory and in the metrics that assess our work. Within the framework of disaster, the acknowledgement of the need for that ratio could mean”deputizing” farmers to supply immediate indicators of the level of destruction.

Disasters point out the fragility of a place and at the same time remind us of the strength of human ties and the resolve of communities. Following that line of thinking, deeper knowledge of local and regional systems would help knit everyone more closely together, allow for rescue and recovery to happen faster even as it is offering a narrative with more relevancy to those in far-off but similarly sized food systems.  If the watershed or the regional system for food production were one such way to describe the need among those participating in food initiatives, assistance could be met one farm, one family or even one small town at a time.

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Kellogg Foundation funds fruits and veggies for FitNOLa participants

The city of New Orleans has received a $700,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to continue supporting the community’s health and wellness, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced July 11, adding that the grant will fund a partnership between the city Health Department’s FIT NOLA initiative, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation, Market Umbrella, Louisiana Public Health Institute, and community wellness programs through 2018.

Community wellness programs at clinics and other sites will refer patients in disease management groups to Fit NOLA Live Well; participants will get an NORDC key card for free fitness activities at 12 NORDC recreation centers, 12 summer and three year-round pools, and several playgrounds…and can receive vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables (at local farmers markets).

Source: Foundation Extends Community Wellness Grant to New Orleans