bye bye Dryades Public Market

I guess sticking a tagline with your name is good enough for people to think your business served a cross-section.

This is what every story led with: “Dryades Public Market … the grocery with a mission (italics added) in Central City is closing today.”

Maybe the name public market fooled some people; really there should be a way that they should have been stopped in using that. Unfortunately, there is not.

As someone long involved in local food systems, I watched this idea sited on the ever-valiant Oretha Castle Haley with hope but more trepidation, and even a little more skepticism. Here are 2 posts from my public market blog where I referred to this entity.

In the late stages of design, I had been contacted by the developer, but I pretty much ignored the emails. (1) I felt there were better minds likely in the fray already, (2) I didn’t trust the local partner to do right by farmers based on what was being reported to me by some of them, and (3) I had moved on to more national work and felt I couldn’t give as much local context as I once had.  Still, they kept calling, so I went to meet with them.

In short, they strongly suggested to me that they knew their local partner was full of shit but felt they were too far along to stop. (I also remember that they kept telling me how many parking spaces this place would have-in exasperation, I finally said that in terms of what they wanted to happen and in knowing the area, parking wasn’t going to be the draw that it was for their projects in NYC. That they needed to let that go.)

What they wanted was some help in figuring out how to still make the idea work. We tossed around some ideas, but the lure of the food hub concept was too hard for them to resist  (although my memory was my only suggestion was to dump the partner publicly and reach out to a cross-section of chefs/farmers/organizers to come up with something else. They were definitely not gonna do THAT at that stage.) So what New Orleans ended up with was 3 different plans in about the same number of years: the “food hub”concept, followed by the “food hall” concept (run by good people who brought in other good people but had to do it without the financials being figured out and without a rebranding kickoff), and the last which was a bit of a desperate dab of a high end specialty store and a hot food line. All in all, nothing worked, even with a lot of truly well-meaning people doing their best to make it work.

I see people on Twitter calling for this to be relocated or even revived because of the “food desert” issue, but it is hard for me to see how people think this idea can work for either of those issues. (Also see folks calling out for ALDI’s or Trader Joe’s to come in to the site. Umm, not only is the square footage not even CLOSE to their wheelhouse, but the characteristics of a successful site for either is not even close to being present in New Orleans proper. It sucks but that is what it is. Capitalism.)

Food desert as a term doesn’t adequately describe the problem and for most organizers across the U.S, has been replaced by food apartheid.  This situation also is better served by that latter term, as OCH has long been one area well known for across-the-board disinvestment by the usual money for the 30 years before Katrina. Now of course, every developer is there using it to build more upscale apartments and eateries which serve only the new population. That is apartheid.

I also see people on social media responding to the news of this closing asking for the “culture to be saved” as if DPM had ANY relationship to our diverse, locally relevant food history or public market/corner store/Schweggie history. Let’s be clear: this blip on our screen is a result of the post-2010 culture designed almost entirely by our “cultural” (read NOT) mayor Landrieu, and the many developers who now have a complete hold on the city. That era was all about “white box delivery” as the goal, with the content being figured out later. Meaning so not New Orleans.

Situating this high end “market” (it hurts me to even write that word in relation to DPM) on OCH, in the midst of the incredible work done by long time activists to fight for equitable development was in in itself a mockery and so out of scale to the rest of the street it was doomed to fail because New Orleanians cannot be fooled.  Because what is true of New Orleanians is that, in terms of good ideas, they don’t believe they start with buildings; they believe they start with relationships, and they could see that this one had few.

If you were going for some level of authenticity, you’d go to Cafe Reconcile, Ashé Cultural Arts CenterRoux Carre, Casa Borrega, Church Alley (before it moved), Zeitgeist (also before it moved), bank at Hope Credit Union and so on. If you did those things, I find it hard to believe you would also enter the clubhouse that was J&J/DPM and spend your money there. And many of those “unfooled” New Orleanians I talked to said exactly that.

And yes, I went. I tried. And I felt out of place, and manipulated by a few wicker basket of bananas and apples and fancy water and a jar or two of local honey being sold to me as a grocery store. I left angry and embarrassed as to what this neighborhood which has survived so much was being offered even as the money was falling all over New Orleans. A crappy clubhouse.

So let’s be real and call this what it was: a bad experiment unworthy of OCH and New Orleans, learn from it,  and move on to better ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margee Green for La Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner

Hello neighbors and friends
I hope you are finding some relief this hot and confounding summer, in some shady spot, on a beach, or (like me) if you are lucky enough to have friends’ pools and quiet porches offered to you here and there. Maybe like me, you also get out of the tropics for a bit; as some of you know, I spend much of the summer on the road, checking out farmers markets across the northern part of the US and seeing what other food systems are doing, while relying on my big sister’s hospitality and patience for my long stay. All of that self-care and the different examples allow me to maintain some optimism and excitement around food and farming even though I also see and hear a lot that is discouraging: the lack of farm land available for new and young farmers, the rapid and multiple effects of climate change on established farms, the number of health concerns among farmers (always in top 10 of the most dangerous professions and fishers are even higher -meaning worse- in that ranking), the attempt by the current administration to dismantle policy gains that benefit small farmers, and much more can make this stuff seem quixotic to say the least.
But I do have hope. My go-to writer/activist Rebecca Solnit has explained how we can have hope. She says: “It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. (Hope) is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”
Today I sat for a few quiet hours on one of those borrowed porches with a young woman I know only slightly, and found more reason for hope. Her name is Margee Green, and she is running for Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner in Louisiana. Now you might think that is a pretty huge idea (and you are right) and maybe even think it’s nigh impossible for her to win, but let’s leave that for her to resolve and not start off by killing the hope. Instead let’s focus on how this state has still not figured out how to support a regional farming culture.
How true innovators like Grant and Kate Estrade of Local Cooling Farms, and Graison Gill from Bellegarde Bakery are not only NOT lauded by our elected officials for their incredible work, but instead are often labeled as troublemakers and their path made more difficult.
How farmers markets still have to fight to keep their name from being co-opted by other retail outlets who do none of things that farmers markets do every week and yet our agency does nothing to stop them.
How other states are growing the number of young or beginning farmers (Alaska had a 30 percent increase between 2012-17), or using US Ag Census data to show how some states are seeing real gains in committed purchasing for locally made goods; guess who is near the bottom?
Yeah, we have a lot to fix in how we view and talk about and how we organize around food here. But we can fix it, by learning from our neighbors and from each other and by building policies that benefit those direct relationships and those sustainable practices that reclaim the local food culture and may help save or delay our state from sinking into the gulf. I think one way to start is by asking for changes at the very top of our system: starting with our Department of Ag.  Asking OUR department to see and act as if the community food system is as at least as important as the commodity system that has been in place since the Company of the Indies tried  (and failed) to grow tobacco. And let’s ask them to calculate how that antiquated system has relied on devaluing land and labor and personage to produce those commodities.
One sure way to do that, to make them aware we won’t keep allowing business as usual, is to support Marguerite Green. So I hope you take a break from whatever stresses you these days and check out her page and see what you think. Go talk to her at the local events and markets where she can be easily found. Maybe it will offer you some relief. And maybe it will have an impact.

Maspero’s founder passes

Once upon a time Cafe Maspero was one of most locals’ favorite places both in its original location on Chartres, and then its Decatur Street location. I remember many fine sandwiches there always paired with excellent service – that is, until it was sold a few years back.

An article about Maspero’s and Charlie that  was first published in The Community Standard magazine in Volume 1, No. 4, February 1975.

Can the French Market be “saved”? Part 1

It was reported over the weekend that our energetic and active mayor has decided to do something about the French Market. As a 20-year activist in food systems with a 40-year family residency in the French Quarter, I was certainly excited to hear that, although I think the setting has already been improved a great deal in recent years. The main reason this seems opportune is 1) the  limited availability of any public spaces in the city to try small, discrete pilots that center around cultural connections and entrepreneurial zeal means that this might be a unique moment, and 2) also because the current FM Director has been quietly impressive.

I have a personal history with this space, as a resident who was sent to the market to shop for my family’s table, and as a place I developed many of my teen-aged interests in books, bikes, clothes, music, gifts…this was definitely the bazaar that I was in 3 – 4 times a week.

Since the beginning of 2003, I also had a work history with this space when my non-profit, (known then as ECOnomics Institute, and as Market Umbrella since 2008) operating  as Crescent City Farmers Markets, became involved in its operation. The history of the March 2003 – August 2005 Crescent City Farmers Market is recorded here because there will be many that immediately suggest that local food  and in particular a farmers market-is what should be added; in fact, I have already fielded some of that type of comment on social media. And it should be noted that the 2014 reopening of that CCFM market was recently shelved and moved to the Rusty Rainbow location on the Crescent Park where it has already attracted more shoppers than this post-K version had in the FM shed location.

Back to 2003: That is when the then-director of the French Market, Richard McCall* invited us to reopen a farmers market in the shed area. We knew it was a tall order but I remember very well that when Richard McCarthy, ECOnomics Institute’s founder and director asked me, “do you think we should try to work with the French Market?” I answered, “I can’t imagine how we can operate markets in New Orleans and not deal with the existing public market,” which fit what he had already been thinking. So we embarked on this relationship with the French Market to see if we could revive it as a place for local growers and eaters.

It helped that Richard McCarthy and I were two locals who had not written off the French Market, and continued to argue among friends that it was still a place where immigrants entered the entrepreneurial arena, locals still held dear (even if was often with false memories or with unreasonable expectations) and where millions of visitors’ spending could be captured by participating in what is at the heart of what New Orleans does well, meaning operate as a port of entry, celebrate the diverse culture,  and host a wide set of users in our dynamic public space. (Remember times were different back then. Not so out of control with tourists’ expectations, and not 17 million of them either.  Although even then, we did know to calibrate tourists versus residents needs in our work.)

So we gave it a big try, ran this one from 10-2 Wednesdays, and like every other market we opened, we had to try things, and then retry them, and then realize that some of the ideas that worked at other of our markets wouldn’t work there and try some brand-new things.

By summer of 2005, we had reinvented this Wednesday market almost 3 complete times (which was similar to our Tuesday and Thursday’s markets btw)  and hit upon a few truths in doing it, some of which seemed counterintuitive. We also noticed some things about the French Market, which were only noticeable to regular users.

Here is what we figured out:

• As new stakeholders, w were committed to helping the FM staff go through a charette for redeveloping the whole big idea of this space. (Credit to McCarthy who suggested that FM renovate their public bathrooms to be the most beautiful in the city; to me that was the best idea I  heard, which they ignored.) As part of this larger process to help the French Market, we became very publicly supportive of their efforts which was sort of new as before then both entities operated towards the other with benign neglect, which meant no public trash talking and mostly a shrug when asked about the other. With this new partnership, we also did our best to offer whatever analysis we could, which extended to the months after Hurricane Katrina, which I will talk more about in Part 2 of this post series.

• We knew that the small number of residents that were available during Wednesdays would not serve the market that we expected this market to serve. We anticipated that the “trade zone” for this market was actually Treme, Marigny, Bywater neighborhoods , and workers in the Quarter. We knew we’d only get a smattering of FQ residents, but we felt, based on our experience with them at the Magazine street location, they would be among the most loyal users of the market. We didn’t care if tourists used our market and mostly expected them not to.

• That it takes 18 months to 2 years to build a successful market with its own culture and energy and yes we knew that too. And that partners never understand that, no matter how often you say it. And vendors mostly don’t believe it either.

• We had begun to attract notice in our field (including funders) from outside of the region, and hoped we could focus our support from the national field of markets to help us develop this market.

• We had the full support and attention of food activists like Poppy Tooker, and most of the media who wrote about food.

• Ditto with the area chefs, although the type we needed to attract to our markets were hard to find in and around the Quarter. (In short, they had to be chefs known to the public, and in control of purchasing which was not always true of corporate or hotel restaurants.)

What we didn’t anticipate:

• A significant number of our current anchor vendors had been vendors at the French Market, and had less than great experiences with staff and management and could not let go of their (valid) bitterness.

• The free parking would not be a draw because no one understood how to access the lot we were offering and if they did, didn’t want to drive to it.

• New Orleanians are loathe to shop where tourists shop, even if it serves the locals purposes.

• Current vendors of the French Market would feel we were competition, even though we sold nothing that competed with their products.

• Many of the French Market staff simply saw us as more work and resented our presence and even thwarted our market day activities.

• Seniors loved weekday markets and we found out that a lot of centers had shuttles to bring folks to us. Wednesdays became a popular place for those shuttles.

• Our main way to do informal and regular marketing was through yard signs; unfortunately, FQ folks did not like them and called to complain about them regularly, even though we put them out and picked them up right before and after the market. This had not been a problem at the other markets.

• Based on the size and newness of direct-to-consumer agriculture in the area, our anchor vendors could only serve 2 markets full-time as a rule of thumb. For most of them, any more than two markets and either the quality of products or attendance by the growers themselves became an issue.

Still,  by the summer of 2005, this market was attracting 350-500 shoppers per week. Our other markets were 2-4 times that size, so our anchor vendors were still disappointed in those numbers, although I think many would be happy today with those numbers. As a result, many dropped out, but we had a long list of waiting vendors and we developed a new system that required them to start at this market. This helped in more ways than hurt, allowing us to develop new anchor vendors as our Tuesday and Thursday market had in their time. We had begun to attract younger shoppers who were not yet shopping at our other markets, and our market manager Tatum Evans had built real trust with senior centers across downtown, most of which were using Wednesday and Thursday as their shopping days. This optimistic future for this market was a bit of an issue by 2005 as this market took much more time than our other weekday markets to design, to manage, and to figure out its marketing.  And is serving 350-500 shoppers the right thing for a small, nimble market organization to do when it may be possible to add another “flagship”market location on the edge of 2-3 neighborhoods as our other locations offered?

Then Katrina happened.

End of Part 1.

 

Some of my other posts about the French Market are found here.

*Yes the French Market director and our ED had very similar names and (I believe) had gone to Newman together! New Orleans is way less than 6 degrees of separation…

Part 2: 2005-2010: Our community, our markets, the French Market, and the overall regional recovery.

 

 

 

Store Associate for Retail Garden Shop with Daily Farmstand in New Orleans 

Lucky New Orleanians:  Metairie’s Laughing Buddha Nursery farm retail store is hiring. LBN is a legendary permaculture outlet and is also connected to the owners’  16-acre Northshore farm Local Cooling Farm.

If you are interested in sustainable gardening, educating others about food and farming and dedicated to local, check out their listing:

Store Associate: Retail Garden Shop with Daily Farmstand in New Orleans – WorkNOLA.com