Huh, the post at the bottom about the Wednesday farmers market reopening was only from 3 years ago. Seems like longer than that! Sadly, the Wednesday market is tinier than ever and struggling more than ever.
When we all went away in August of 2005, we (meaning those of us at the market organization that ran the Crescent City Farmers Markets) had built the vendor base to a respectable 8-10 faithful (and 2-3 semi-regular doubtful) vendors and had 250-400 regular shoppers attending most weeks. That shopping base was found after much trial and error and realization that many of the assumptions we made about who would attend were wrong and needed to be addressed. (Having the guts to correct our original hypothesis happened at every market we opened while I was there it seemed and what was a big part of what made our tiny organization’s work so relevant to the needs of the area…) Pre-2005, the shoppers we began to attract to this mkt were an interesting mix of seniors arriving via community center shuttles in the first 2 hours and young bike riding service workers coming in the last hour and a half of the market. Not at all what we had originally planned for and expected.Same thing was true each time of the vendor base too.
When it reopened in 2014, I went weekly at first, but I stopped attending it for a few reasons, not the least of which was the shrimp lady and seasonal fruit vendors attendance was intermittent and their absences were without advanced notice. My experience is that those products are crucial to any weekday market in New Orleans. And anchor vendors missing a lot of consecutive market days means they don’t believe in it enough.
And of course, since 2014, the organization has had to focus on finding a new location for its Saturday market, AND deal with the traffic woes of Uptown’s gargantuan street repairs driving so many lunchtime workers and regulars from that market, AND with the rapid exit of the originally enthusiastic French Market ED that I mentioned in the post. Many shoppers (and vendors!) are quickly impatient with any of these issues, much less all of them at once and so I can imagine the quandary that the organization finds itself again: How to make weekly pop-up markets big enough to attract enough shoppers and vendors but not too big that it becomes a nuisance to the neighborhood (like many of the new festivals have become)? And how to manage to have enough unique qualities that people get up early on Saturday, delay the start of the workday til their Tuesday stop, use the Weds time (and free parking offered) to also grab some food at Matassa’s or take a walk about the Quarter for lunch, or head to them when leaving work on Thursday?
Our (pre-2008) take on these markets was, after a lot of trial and error, to build each one based on the demographics of those that were nearby and likely to attend and to only open new ones when we felt the earlier ones had been programmed and filled to capacity enough. And to correct when we were wrong. I think one thing I’d add now that we didn’t do as well then would be to engage the nearby neighborhood associations more and also find more unique partners for each market’s programming of events. And focus more on product development with the existing vendors.
The idea of Festivus, the Holiday Market for the Rest of Us (2003-2007) was to offer our mission-based, producer-supportive approach for non-food items and for 4 of the 5 years, I think we succeeded beyond our own expectations (which were high) and in the 5th, though others still loved it and the attendance was reasonably high, even I could see the idea had been watered down by other pop-ups to the point that our fair trade and handmade non-food revolution was going to take more effort than we could offer in those dark days of post-levee break life. You see, our food producers were still in big trouble and so we needed to focus on those folks, especially since no other New Orleans-based NGO did or does. Our ED and CCFM founder Richard McCarthy saw the trouble with Festivus a year before I did, but let me try it again to see if I could make it work in that environment. I still appreciate that.
I’d like to see our incoming mayor explore the idea of a Director of Markets position again in New Orleans but this time, one that supports all of the markets, not just the historic one and not just food. And focuses on reducing duplicative work, encourages collaboration and innovation within an appropriate cultural context. AND calls out those events that masquerade as markets but are not. Maybe it needs to be within the Office of Resiliency and Sustainability…The French Market ED (who has been a long time supporter of CCFM as a shopper) has her hands full with a job that really is three in one: landlord, event manager and caretaker of the largest amount of historic property owned by the city (includes the Upper Pontalba). I also thought I read some indications that she doesn’t really think the French Market can sustain local food initiatives but am not sure that was reported; may just have been gossip..
In any case, if her point is that the French Market cannot be the main answer to local food and other local cottage industries efforts being ramped up significantly for the entire city’s benefit, she is right.
Maybe I’ll pass this long post to those running for mayor and invite them on a tour of what is going on around town to get them involved. I hope some of you do the same if you care about our farmers and harvesters and creative folks…
My original FB post from May 22, 2014
well. the old footprint of CCFM is restored completely, 9 years after the federal levee breaks took it apart. I certainly wish the new leadership well with this endeavor, and like the FM Director Richard McCall we had back in the day when I worked for CCFM, they have an enthusiastic director at FM to assist. There is no doubt that opening a true farmers market in the old shed market can be very tricky (as we learned in 2002? or 2003? when we opened it originally), but more places for regional producers is a valiant effort to put forth. The work required to find and keep the flow of people coming will be substantial, but finally, it will be up to folks downtown and regional producers to commit in order for it to thrive.