Vintage HandPicked: Crescent City Farmers’ Market

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...

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Editor’s Note: Today is Fat Tuesday and that got us thinking about the big party going on down in New Orleans.

It also jogged our memories about this post about their farmers’ market–The Crescent City Farmers’ Market. 

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

A great way to get to know a new city is to visit the local farmers market. You get an inside look at the region’s bounty and it’s always nice to see how a community is supporting its local food growers and producers.

The Crescent City Farmers Market is one such place.

Since 1995, the Crescent City Farmers Market has been setting up shop in various parts of the city three times a week. As the “public face” of marketumbrella.org, the market is:

…an outgrowth and reflection of marketumbrella.org’s core mission to cultivate the field of public markets for public good. Learning, sharing and growing, marketumbrella.org cultivates community markets that utilize local resources to bolster authentic local traditions.

The market accepts food stamps and utilizes wooden tokens (known as ‘crescents’) that can be purchased with a debit card with an optional donation to the Crescent Fund Request:

A hybrid between micro-finance and alternative philanthropy. We award up to $500 in cash infusions to projects that reinforce the Crescent City Farmers Market’s belief in linking public markets with public good.

It’s this passage of information from consumer to producer (and, sometimes, back again) that illustrates the absolute necessity of the farmers’ market.

I spent a morning visiting the market and talking with some of the producers who have stands there. The biggest themes to emerge from the conversations were that the market has had major positive impact on the growth of these local businesses and the local producers have had a good hand in educating the market consumer about the seasonality and quality of their products.

The Core family, who have been with the market since the beginning, have grown their business from 5,000 to about 150,000 strawberry plants today. Timmy Perilloux has drastically diversified the kinds of produce he grows as an answer to the requests of both restaurants and a more food-savvy public.

He said, “Every year, I add more. Romanesco, kohlrabi, artichokes… next year, I’m starting purple and citrus cauliflower. People just want more!”

Bill Ryals, of Rocking R Dairy, does brisk business selling pastured eggs, cow’s milk, goat’s milk and cheeses from both–although it was slow-going when he first started.

“There really aren’t a lot of southern cheese makers, so it took a couple months to introduce people to the cheese and then a couple more months before people really embraced it.”

Clara Gerica, of Gerica Seafood, noted “We have the insight on the product.” She says she’s educated people on such facts as, “redfish cannot be wild-caught and farmed catfish is not nearly as delicious, fresh or healthy as the wild-caught we sell.”

I was also introduced to local varietals of rice and rice grits (something I’d never heard of before) at the Cajun Grains stand.

Proprietar Kurt Unkel’s family had been growing rice for two generations when Kurt had an epiphany: there was no ‘life’ on his land. No bugs, no worms, no birds.

He realized that the conventions of farming with pesticides had eroded the ecology around him and he decided to convert his operation over to organic and biodynamic practices.

He also started growing heirloom rice varietals, some of which the locals had never seen or heard of before. These major changes have resulted in Kurt’s rices bearing as much as four times the protein found in conventional rice!

I picked up a bag of rice grits as a souvenir of my edible tour of New Orleans.

It’s this passage of information from consumer to producer (and, sometimes, back again) that illustrates the absolute necessity of the farmer’s market.

As Crescent City Farmer’s Market says on their site:

Our market brings the city and the country together. A farmer from rural Mississippi meets his urban customers and learns firsthand what they want to buy. New Orleans shoppers get to know the family that catches their catfish. And with each social transaction, the city and the country realize how much they need each other.

Do you shop your local farmer’s market? Tell us about it in the comments!

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano