River is remembering

“You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. “Floods” is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, that valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory–what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our “flooding.” –Toni Morrison

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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.

Piety Market In Exile- St. Claude Avenue

To me, well-curated markets are the pinnacle of everyday life. To achieve the right balance, their organizers have to have vision, grit, and the guts to calibrate the right mix of local history, physical design, social mores, retail trends, and at least a little crazy shit. And then do it over and over. It has alway been clear to me that Cree McCree (who I like to call the Godmother of Flea) is a master, having created markets here from those legendary Mermaid markets forward, but it seems important to note that her market lineage goes back decades to places like NYC, NM, and CA, where flea markets are judged at a higher level. (It is surprising how flea is not normally as well done here as it is in places even like Northeast Ohio, incidentally an area from which Cree and I both hail.) I can attest to her skill because as often as I attend her events I continue to have interesting conversations, learn something new, and find deals just about every time. To me, markets like hers act as a virtual levee, shoring up our resistance to the overflow of bullshit and commodified crap being sent our way in recent years by those who want to Instagram our culture to death.
So join us on the edge by supporting 5 dollar bargain racks, locally mixed organic spices combos, trying on gorgeous hand wrought crowns, thumbing through eclectic book offerings by booksellers (led by Donald Miller up there offering his rapid-fire talk; today it was a verbal appreciation for the Latina bridal party posing for pics in their yoga pants next to his tables of books, even as he wryly admits their utter disdain for bibliophiles), one-of-a kind Haitian artwork, live music, and simply tables of uniqueness not calibrated for those 17 million visitors who wouldn’t know what the hell to make of most of it but instead presented only for some of the 400,000 of us who want to be inspired by our neighbors, and to inspire when we come out through the front door.