Drive-thru farmers market report for 4/05/2020, New Orleans LA

 

Today my local farmers markets reopened as strictly drive-thru. No question that it was a great success in terms of the order levels (reported by vendors as I motored through) and the appreciation from shoppers. In addition, the staff looked MUCH more relaxed than they did with their once-only, timed entry, open-air market pilot that happened in mid March.

Our Baton Rouge-based Red Stick Farmers Markets are doing drive-thru markets as well, but slightly differently, as it is not entirely pre-order. Keep an eye on the BREADA website to see what Copper Alvarez and her team come up with next.

CCFMED at entranceDrive Thru

Executive Director Kate Parker at entrance of today’s market

For some background:

The Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans LA is normally held in parking lots around the city 6-7 times per week year round (one or two locations have been seasonal, and one recently closed for good, but they are almost always running 6 markets or more per week.) This entity’s parent organization, Market Umbrella,  has long been known for their innovative work to increase access and provide support to regional farmers and small businesses.

The CCFM vendors are almost all only direct-to-consumer businesses with a smidgen of side-door restaurant sales, although most of the chefs around town simply come to the market and buy what they need. From my experience as Deputy Director 2001-2011 this is because most of the vendors are not able to do delivery or even invoice sales because they are so small, so understaffed, or so far away. After all, this is a commodity-driven region that has mostly resisted building support for DTC farmers. And yes, the Deep South does seem to be even worse than most areas across the US.  So even in good times, its pretty rough for these farmers and businesses to find resources or support to pivot or to do multiple types of channels.

The market organization decided that walk up markets would not work for them for the duration of this emergency, for many reasons I am sure. I believe that each organization gets to decide exactly how they will handle this moment. Of course, this aligns with my long-held market TA response about which rules a new market should adopt: I answer (probably maddeningly) “use those rules that are understandable to your team, to your vendors, and to your shoppers and stakeholders. After all, you need to defend them and explain why you have them.”  So the same thing goes for this moment too. And all of that market context around rules has to co-exist within the rules (if they exist) set by your local municipality, county, and/or state.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, for markets our usual go-to agency is agriculture, which  in this case has been mostly unable to do much to help us, as this is not a food-borne virus.  Instead, it’s been public health or disease control making the decisions,  agencies which often have less awareness or fewer partnerships with  open-air farmers markets and so less understanding of our protocols.

So that’s number one. Do what is best for your organization and your vendors. Just be transparent with your shoppers and stakeholders exactly WHAT that decision is and HOW it was made.

Next, how to order: First, it’s important to share that this very sophisticated, well-advised, well-staffed organization attempted an preorder app a few years back and it was not a success, so they shelved it.   After they closed their walk-in market a few weeks back, they instead began by partnering on a box program with a 3rd party entity where the local items are pre-selected and can be paid for with SNAP or other cards. It costs 40.00 and is also available for delivery. I have only seen a few pics and it looked a little light to me, but that just may be how the pictures have been taken. I think many regular and new market shoppers are perfectly fine with this box, but it seems that many others were not and that many of their vendors were unwilling or unable to sell this way. I am one of those unwilling to do a preorder box and instead I reached out to those vendors I usually purchase from and made arrangements with them whenever possible. I also took advantage of some of these other non-market choices below:

  1. A couple of market vendors began working with local chefs to sell a box directly from only one farm at their restaurant:PocheFMboxesApril
  2. Another version has been coffeehouses et al adding local produce to their long list of items they will pack up as a preorder. My local heroes here are Good Karma Cafe because they offer coffee, tea, their tinctures, their prepared items, and are selling the produce without asking any fees from those farmers. They need the local goods themselves for their prepared items, and they feel they benefit by adding customers who want a little local produce. And they truly believe in the quality of locally grown items. There are others around town doing something similar from what I am hearing.
  3. The local news featured a farm which usually sells only to restaurants selling boxes to walk ups outside one of those shuttered places. Not sure yet how that is working but it seems to be doing well.
  4. We had a few (and I mean a few, maybe 1 or 2)  farm aggregators selling to consumers already running successfully with farmers Kate and Grant Estrade from Laughing Buddha Nursery as the model that everyone else should learn from. (LBN is their longstanding retail nursery shop and their farm is called Local Cooling Farms.) They tell me that demand is way up, and even though a few of their usual farmers are using one of the other above methods and don’t need to sell through LBN as of now, that allowed them to pick up new farmers. And instead of doing their usual 6-7 drop offs at their hub partner sites around town each week, they are selling only at their nursery which has refrigeration and allows them to set up contactless pick up. (This couple should be doing monthly webinars for DTC farmers and maybe, sooner or later, they will have enough time to do just that. I’m a big fan as you can tell.)

Okay, so how well did the drive-thru market work?

At the beginning of this post,  I mentioned the level of vendor sales channel diversity because it matters.  I understand via a quick convo with market staff through face masks that getting this small group of vendors ready for this was a HUGE undertaking, which is no surprise to me. The vendors that agreed to participate were listed on the organization’s website with the items they would have, the cost for each, and the way to order from each individually (phone or text or email) and the manner to pay (Paypal, Venmo, manual card entry over phone, etc.)

CCFM website DriveThru

I say small group because the number of vendors at this market were far fewer than their usual open-air market. I understand that some told the market “I can’t sell enough to do pre-orders, so no thanks.” (And again, every vendor ALSO has the right to decide what works for their business without scorn, but I do believe when they hear how well this went for those this week, more will want to try it. I can tell you that this reticence may be partly based on their experience with a half-dozen 3rd party aggregator projects around town over the last decade which all started up to great acclaim and then all shuttered, often still owing them money.)

Other vendors told the market casually that they would take try it and take orders over the phone not knowing how many people would call in the first few hours! I think part of this rush to order was that news of this drive-thru came to most through the local media- and only a few days before the actual market.  So that type of publicity made it much bigger than it might have been without. (I might suggest that small less-staffed or experienced markets try week one through just reaching out to their email list at first if possible. Maybe ask local writers to hold the story until after week 1 is in the books-that is if the market is confident enough in their list.)

As a result of the great publicity, and the deep attachment to this market with its 25 years of service, vendor voicemail mailboxes were immediately full. And when  vendors called folks back, I’m not sure that each figured out they needed to do it in order of earliest calls to the latest, so it may be that some of those who called earliest lost out. (I think that happened to me with one vendor. And no biggie. I’l get them next week).

Some vendors did texting which seemed to work pretty well but to work it needed to be confirmed and sent to payment immediately. I tried two that were listed as text orders and only one called back. The one who did, did it exactly right- texted me the total, told me their Venmo account and I paid immediately.

Clearly, this requires that there is one person handling orders for each vendor for the open window period.  And that is easier said than done. (I’ll do another post on vendors soon with some feedback I received. Let me just say that the few I had time to answer me were very positive on this as a short-term solution during this pandemic but clearly exhausted from the added work. One vendor told me on camera he came close to his usual Saturday market in terms of the number of sales. He had 92 preorders, and he estimated that he usually gets 120 or so transactions over 4 hours at the Saturday market  but thinks he didn’t meet or exceed his usual Saturday only because “his system wasn’t ready for this.” And he promised he will get better at it. I’d also suggest that the anecdotal data from markets across the US seems to indicate that the average sale is higher than the normal market in present circumstances. Likely because people buy more, and we are also hearing that meat vendors are doing tremendously well.)

Location

In terms of where to hold this market and when, the organization had some (I assume informal) help from City Hall. Most of their current locations were not going to work as a drive through; sadly, one of their best locations has had too many cases of Covid-19 at the assisted living place that is situated on the same property to hold this there.  City Hall employee and engineer Jennifer Ruley, who has been working on safe street programs for almost 20 years stepped up; she personifies what I wrote last month about finding partners for this moment. She and the Market Umbrella E.D. Kate Parker were well acquainted from neighborhood work that both have been doing for decades. The team chose the parking lot of the most popular and community-minded po-boy* shop in town, which has been closed for the duration and is right next to the new multi-use greenway that MU wanted to use but was not available because of other uses. Jen met with market staff and Parkway owners on Saturday to think through traffic design. See their map below.

IMG_2642.jpg

Lafitte Street is under construction as part of the Greenway, and has houses on only one side. It has 6-7 side streets that dead end into this street and two major avenues on either end.

CCFMDT_Police directing at entranceexit

Orange was entrance, green was exit.

All in all, I’d say that it worked beautifully – up to a point. The early problem that I saw was that a few folks came down the side streets and poked in the line which, honestly, most of those already in line let go and didn’t get all screamy on them; after all, why? their order was already made. And really, most shoppers politely went to the end of the line without urging.

The other traffic issue that can be easily corrected next time was that the police should have closed the street off to all other traffic. Folks were turning on to the street unaware of the market, meaning to simply drive somewhere and often got caught up in the crawl. Additionally, the street should have been made only one way towards the market for these hours, and all shoppers directed to the far end avenue (Broad) to turn on to Lafitte. Again, all easily fixed for next time.

Yet this location seems like it is going to top out around 16-18 vendors and so the question becomes does CCFM add another location while keeping this one for the duration for that number of vendors, or just go find one big spot for all of their drive thru markets and vendors?  Seems like some of the vendors feel like 2 locations a week may max their ability to take orders and to take those, but they may feel differently as time goes on. If they add a second location what would the criteria be? My guess is easy access from main streets and from many parts of town, large parking lot with a fence or barricade around it to maintain safety and keep pedestrians out, in or near zip codes where there is density of drivers/shoppers, a well known location, vendor restroom access, and a partner/host to help.

Once in line, one CCFM staffer came down, said a cheerful hello and explained how it would work, and asked shoppers to get their trunks open before entering. Another staffer wrote the shoppers name on a piece of paper that was then stuck on the outside of the window so vendors could see the names and get their orders up.

 

The shopper drove in, made the circle with vendors checking your name and putting your orders in the truck. The last would close it.

I understand they figured out how to do some SNAP sales, but as I didn’t bother them any longer than I had to so I’ll have to get more info later. One way this may work is for those shoppers to have their pre-orders total written out, separated by  vendor and swipe their card for the total as they arrive and attach the paid receipt on the window for each vendor to see it was paid. Or have them place the orders as everyone else does, and the vendors to pack those and hand them to the market org before the bell rings to process on the machine in another line.

CCFMexitStaff takepaperoff windshield.JPG

CCFM tent at entrance/exit which (maybe) could still process SNAP?

a few issues:

Long market

Took longer than the 4 hours it was scheduled. There were timespans with long lines and then timespans with very short ones, so staggering the arrival next time may help.

There were too many vendors without PPE at all, no gloves or masks. All CCFM staff were equipped and had their market t-shirt on to make clear who they were, led by their E.D. who again, was out there at the entrance checking on everything. I am SURE that CCFM strongly suggested that vendors equip themselves but clearly too many had not paid much attention or could not find any.  One idea that I will float via my own social media  is for fervent CCFM shoppers to purchase cloth masks made by locals for their favorite vendors, and maybe get them a pair or cleaning gloves to wear if nothing else.  Since no money is changing hands, there is little need for dexterity.  I am sure that many of your shoppers would be happy to help get masks made and could possibly get gloves and sanitizer for your vendors too. (Update: within 15 minutes of me posting it, local people are getting masks made for these vendors! Update #2: NOLa folks made almost 200 masks for farmers which I have given to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Covington farmers markets.)

Big purchasers versus small. Some cars were stopping at every vendor and some only were picking up one or two items.  (It may work to stagger those by the number of vendor pickups one has, so that those with fewer transactions come later. Still to do that would require a LOT more work for the organization and it simply may not matter when vendors get better at this.)

How to check orders. Vendors were madly looking through page after page of orders, which didn’t seem to be in alphabetical order. (It might be helpful for the market organization to offer a simple spreadsheet that they can use for their orders and/or then print them out for everyone in order.It might also help for the organization to also have shoppers – when they arrive – list the market location number of each vendors who they had an order with, so if vendor #4 isn’t marked, vendor #4 doesn’t need to look through their list.)

Impact on the neighborhood. This needs to part of the measurement for any market: the positive and the negative impact on that area. Too often, markets only measure economic impact- which should always be measured – but also should also view the effect of noise, cars, trash, and other impacts on that area. These neighbors, without warning, had a line of cars belching exhaust into their houses for a few hours at a time when the weather is so beautiful that every window is probably open. It may help to stagger shoppers by time, to add another market day in another area, or to simply ask folks to turn their car off and let the police move clusters of cars at a time. I’ll find out more about how many cars came through but it sounded like the line was down to only a block long after an hour or so.

CCFM line in first hourDrive Thru

Costs. The design did require more staff than a regular market day and clearly a lot more planning was required. It did require police which I would assume will have to be reimbursed.  And the fees per vendor are assessed at a flat rate in this organization;  as the numbers of vendors were lower than they would normally be during this extremely busy market season**, they will have less income there. I will say that the partnership with Parkway Bakery’s free lot was inspired because they also came and helped, AND gave each car a free bag with a roast beef po-boy, local chips and water. And they have a very well-tended lot.

ParkwayGift

local chips, roast beef po-boy, branded memo pad, paper hat,  and a water bottle.

 

All in all, I hope these vendors and this staff sleep well tonight, knowing they have pulled off an extremely delicate and complicated market day. And that we deeply thank them.

I’ll let a shopper give the last word with what he told me after he picked up his items:

“It is a blessing, no matter how long it takes.”

AngelinaCCFM

Director of Markets Angelina Harrison watching it all.

 

 

**We’re in the middle of berry, lettuce, and just beginning tomato season and the weather is great in March and April here, usually low humidity and little rain which is holding true this year.

 

 

Food court or food hall: is there a difference?

To answer my own question to start:
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 (St. Roch Market), the location had served as a public market long ago and is still owned by the city , 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 from a need to check it off the “done”lost, the city did a smaller renovation 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

 

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:

unnamed-2

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

16831069_1258086530926946_2376355837903722700_n

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

unnamed

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.

unnamed-1

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.

16830699_10208536597954412_5970393066501924615_n

16807049_10154507338621795_7552535683466588009_n

16807213_10208536596834384_6269194852156135913_n

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:

HelenHillDustyAngels.png

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 Reily Foods’  prized chinaberry tree set this parking lot apart from others in the CBD.

IMG_2164.jpg

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

Why a market?

In 1995, two of the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) founders – the late, sorely missed Sharon Litwin, and the geographically departed, sorely missed, but still kicking Richard McCarthy – realized its potential as the home for their upcoming market, and 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 between CCFM and Reily lasted for 21 years until Boatner’s passing.

IMG_2166 (1)

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 behind the mural served as the parking for weekday Reily employees and became where the rainy day markets were held, with storage rooms around its edges and an off-limits parking area at the back.

img_1745

Inside the garage

img_1743

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.  One of the larger garage doors hadn’t opened since early 2005; 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 to avoid water falling on one’s products or head, until finally, the roof was repaired. 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.I think actual lights were added recently, which made it seem like Santa Claus had finally stopped by to reward our good behavior. Or maybe it was that the market 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.

 

img_1696

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 dog jumping at it. 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. Let’s just say the less said about it, the better. And that 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 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. I am sure that is no surprise to any market manager.

img_1873

SV-AS10 ImageData

Market Umbrella Executive Director Kate Parker talks about the late, legendary Diana Pinckley and her impact. That is founder Sharon Litwin in the peach shirt, who was always great about showing up for important occasions. Still miss seeing her around town.   Both are now memorialized on the wooden tokens used by the market.                                                                    R.I.P. Diana and Sharon.

 

IMG_20150926_084352

Isabel and Miguel Mendez and kids, 15 years

img_1693img_1687img_1685

In pictures, the mural 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.

18893169_1509312512447236_1239313476098707934_n.jpg

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 11-12, 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, 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.

img_2202

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

img_2233

 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.)

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.

Continue reading

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.

IMG_1795.jpg

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.”

IMG_1794 (1).jpg

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.

Continue reading

Louisiana Update # 8: The natural cost

 

14079492_10153806953867060_6009672677636791922_n.jpg

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, 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 at 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 acknowledgment 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.

Continue reading

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

 

 

Up next: New Orleans, Vermont, Massachusetts

Over the last ten years, my travel schedule has remained pretty constant in the late winter and spring: a.k.a. farmers market/agricultural conference season. Sometimes it means that I am leaving New Orleans during Carnival season, (or my fav festival event) the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival or just at the loveliest time of year. Still, I am honored to be invited to participate in so many market development workshops and say yes to as many as I can manage.

This year my conference travel has taken me to North Carolina, Atlanta and Illinois and next up are three meetings, two in places I know and love, and one new to me:

New Orleans: AFRI-funded “Indicators for Impact” project team/market pilot sites meeting.

Vermont: NOFA-VT Farmers Market meeting

Massachusetts: Mass Farmers Markets meeting

• In New Orleans, I will serve as the host team member and support the FMC team in presentations, facilitating open discussion among participating markets and in absorbing those markets feedback on their first year of gathering and compiling data. This University of Wisconsin-led research is informing the development of Farmers Market Metrics.

• In Vermont, I return for the 5th or 6th year to support my colleague Erin Buckwalter in her work at NOFA-VT to build capacity for direct marketing outlets and to support VFMA. I’ll be presenting some retail anthropology techniques for markets to consider when refreshing their markets. Sounds like I’ll also be called on to facilitate a open session on EBT issues, which should be helpful to the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School (CAFS). The students are leading the design of a Legal Market Toolkit along with project partners NOFA-VT and FMC. Exciting stuff coming out of this project, I promise.

• Final stop of the season is to one of the most established state associations and to work with one of the longest serving state leaders, Jeff Cole. I remember well that in the formation days of Farmers Market Coalition, our Market Umbrella E.D. always came back from those meetings with great respect for Jeff’s input. Since then, I have called on him to offer analysis in some of my projects (shout out to some of my other informal advisor mainstays: Stacy Miller, Amy Crone, Sarah Blacklin, Ben Burkett, Colleen Donovan, Copper Alvarez, Kelly Verel, Suzanne Briggs, Helena St. Jacques, Richard McCarthy, Beth Knorr, Leslie Schaller, Jean Hamilton, Paul Freedman, Devona Sherwood  along with a whole bunch of others..)   Jeff has asked me to do an overview on market measurement history (RMA, SEED, PPS audits) and recent evolutions like FM Tracks, Demonstrating Value, and of course Farmers Market Metrics.

So, keep yourself busy on other blogs while I sit in meetings, learning and sharing for the next few weeks. And if you are attending any of these meetings, please say hello and share your news or ideas with me. Maybe it’ll be the next best practice that I post on my return to these pages.

 

 

 

Downtown development leaves Crescent City Farmers Market searching for new home new

The Saturday morning market has been at Magazine and Girod streets for 20 years but is being displaced by a new development.

Unfortunately,this sort of situation is happening across the US, even with markets that have been diligent about making the case for their space. Here is some of the anecdotal background I learned when I joined the organization in 2001 and some that I experienced in my decade there.

When this location was chosen more than 20 years ago, the neighborhood was somnolent and even slightly sketchy. Some of the supporters were concerned about the supposed danger and even advocated for security to be on site every Saturday. Yet, the lack of attention is partly why the founders chose the location. That underused space would allow them to grow as needed in the first few years without too much intrusion on residential areas and could illustrate how markets were social spaces as well as economic drivers for the community. The use of the inside parking area made it especially appealing and allowed for the market to be bustling even when raining.  And of course, security staff was never needed.

As the market grew in size and attention, the founders made another decision: instead of expanding the space into the street or searching for larger spaces to host the Saturday market, the organization opened other markets in other locations, determined to serve as many neighborhoods as possible.  In the spring of 2000, Market Umbrella opened the Tuesday market Uptown which drew weekday shoppers who rarely made the Saturday market. That Uptown market also allowed senior centers and community centers to become partners as they could shuttle their clients to a regular market while they had staff to drive them and could use their new FMNP coupons (the market started around the time when the Senior FMNP began in Louisiana). The Saturday market however, continued to draw residents from across the city and was packed from end to end from the opening bell at 8 am ’til the closing bell at 12 noon.The owners of the lot even built a small permanent toilet for the market and repaired the roof of the indoor space.

In 2003, Market Umbrella added “Festivus, the Holiday Market for the Rest of Us” a fair-trade locally made craft market, held for three days every December next to the Saturday market.  Market Umbrella offered this non-food, pop up market as another way to animate the location and as a way to increase sales at the usually quiet December farmers market. Festivus was a success, drawing 2000 or more shoppers on most of its days, many of whom had never made it to the Saturday market before Festivus.

Even in 2005, Festivus was held for one post-Katrina day on December 10th; that highly successful market day also brought a never-ending succession of long-time CCFM shoppers asking when the market would return to the location. (CCFM was open as of November 22, 2005 but only at the Tuesday location uptown. The original location would return in March of 2006.)

Four or five years after the market opened,  the neighborhood added a major amenity: the D-Day museum opened down the street and quickly grew in size. That museum has added a series of regular weekend events and significant tourism to the corridor (and is now named the National World War 2 Museum) which has had both a positive and a negative affect on the market. It has been joined by  the Ogden Museum, and in the last few years, significant residential  development as well as blocks of retail and even a full-sized grocery store have been added to this old warehouse and office building area.

With all of that new activity, the reality may be that the market should have expected it would need a new location and begin to plan for it long ago. In other words, open-air farmers markets that operate on a handshake and disappear from sight as soon as the bell rings at the end of the market may need to seek out new underused space once enough permanent development becomes attracted to the space originally animated by the market. Or,  it may mean that flagship markets that are determined to stay in their original space may have to do a capital campaign to build some sort of permanent infrastructure and still may expect they have to negotiate for parking, event space and attention, which would require added staff savvy in lobbying and in working with neighborhood groups and developers. Either way, it seems to show the need for strategic planning and constant communication about location at a very early stage of market development.

CCFM has started to search for its new location and hopes to stay near to the original area. However it may not be possible, given the new demand. Either way, Market Umbrella has a new future in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What may also be helpful is for markets to do a location scan every five years,  checking in on the changes in the market area and maintaining an eye out for other locations. Source: Downtown development leaves Crescent City Farmers Market searching for new home | NOLA.com

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