Markets need a boost (again)

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.

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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 Boatner Reily’s prized chinaberry tree set the parking lot apart from others near it in the CBD. I wasn’t there in 1995 when two of the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) founders, the recently departed and sorely missed Sharon Litwin and the geographically departed, sorely missed, but still kicking Richard McCarthy,  happened upon the corner and realizing its potential for their upcoming market, 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.” He  was reportedly charmed by the request and gratified that his new mural and carefully tended tree would serve as the host for this idea. That handshake lasted for 21 years.

The lot and mural are attached to a one-story garage used on weekdays by the Reily Foods employees. 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 has a large central space where the rainy day markets were held, with storage rooms around its edges and an off-limits parking area at the back.

The inside garage was affectionately nicknamed “Little Calcutta” for the humidity and humanity it contains when used by the market.  One of the garage doors hasn’t opened since early 2005; it’s an old sliding doorway that used to be opened for needed airflow and an added entry but after a while the tracks became rusted and trash-filled. Finally, the market vendors learned how to avoid market staff when we went to get help to open or to close it. So we stopped using 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 until finally, the roof was repaired. I think actual lights were added then too, all of which made it seem like Santa Claus had finally stopped by to reward our good behavior. Or maybe it was that we 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.

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.

The storage room used by the market was a loose description (see below), and had a lock on the door that probably could have been broken by an excited dog jumping up on the frame. 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. Once out of the old space, I don’t believe anyone has ever entered it again.

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This was the newer storage space.

The outside parking lot was the real home of the market though, with its hedges on the Magazine Street side that made it easy for drunks and street folks to use as a bathroom or to hide contraband in on a Friday night, leaving a horrified North Shore farmer to discover at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Those hedges were also ideal for hanging a temporary market sign and in limiting the “”leaky” entrances, as market organizers term those places where some enterprising visitors dart into, disconcerting those who expect everyone to enter at their front.

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The Girod side was open to the sidewalk with only an asphalt dip and 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 and that it was often easier to ask them to fill secondary space. I am sure that is no surprise to any market manager.

The other two sides of the lot contained the mural which became the gorgeous backdrop to the market. In pictures, it 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.

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 in to any available seating were good indicators of the 10 o’clock hour starting. In the last hour, 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, 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.

 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.

The Crescent City Farmers Market regains its pre-Katrina footprint with their French Market location reopening

Wednesdays 2-6 pm year-round, Ursuline at the River. Share your green with the farmers and fishers at the Green Market and show everyone that the French Quarter ain’t just your grandma’s old neighborhood!

http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/index.php?page=wednesday-market

The Crescent City Farmers Market Regains Its Pre-Katrina Footprint.

Meetings for potential vendors for CCFM @ French Market

(From Market Umbrella):

As you may have heard, Market Umbrella will be starting another year-round Crescent City Farmers Market in the French Market this fall, slated to open Wednesday, October 15 from 2-6pm. To this end, we are currently in the process of accepting new vendor applications for this exciting new Wednesday afternoon market.

We will be hosting 2 meetings for farmers, fishers, and food producers interested in becoming vendors with us: Wednesday, Sept 3 at 5:30pm at the CCFM offices (200 Broadway, suite 107) and Saturday, Sept 6 at noon, in the Saturday market space at 700 Magazine Street. This meeting will inform prospective new vendors about the market and the process for applying and vendor selection.

If you cannot make this meeting, but are interested in becoming a vendor, applications will be accepted online at crescentcityfarmersmarket.org’s New Vendor page.

Applications will be accepted until September Sept 15 at 5pm.

Please pass this along to any farmers, fishers, and food producers in your network!

Thank you for your help. We look forward to bringing the best local food to the French Market.

Please direct any questions or comments to markets@marketumbrella.org

Crescent City Farmers Market

Tuesday Market – Uptown New Orleans
9am – 1pm, 200 Broadway St., at the River

Thursday Market – Mid-City New Orleans
3-7pm, 3700 Orleans Ave., at the Bayou

Saturday Market – Downtown New Orleans
8am – Noon, 700 Magazine St., at Girod St.

Weekly farmers market coming to French Market

First thing to share: I was the Deputy Director of the city’s original open-air market organization for some time, including back when we opened the Wednesday market at the French Market in 2002 or 2003 ( I never remember which)…
Here is what I wrote on FB about this news:
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.

Weekly farmers market coming to French Market | News | The New Orleans Advocate.