Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Once and Future Farmers Market

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 4:39 PM

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The local nonprofit MarketUmbrella.org, parent group for the Crescent City Farmers Market, will soon take over its old pre-Katrina farmers market spot in Mid-City, thanks to some good timing and a long-running proof-of-concept effort from one dedicated local merchant.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the Crescent City Farmers Market held one of its three weekly markets in the parking lot outside the American Can apartment building (3700 Orleans Ave., map) each Thursday afternoon. While the group's Uptown and Warehouse District markets reopened after the catastrophe, the Mid-City market was put on hold indefinitely.

Enter Jon Smith (above), proprietor of Cork & Bottle Fine Wines, which is located in the American Can building. In April 2008, he organized and launched a new market on the same site, and dubbed it the Mid-City Green Market.

The original farmers market was good for the wine shop's business before Katrina, but Smith has always maintained that his motivation for starting the Green Market was more about reviving a community tradition and gathering place -- one he believed was especially important as the area rebuilt after the levee failures.

Though the Green Market was Smith's own independent venture, MarketUmbrella.org played a vital role from the beginning. Smith approached the group with a proposal to open a new market using their model and found its administrators were eager to help him get it off the ground. In keeping with MarketUmbrella.org's own mission to mentor other markets, they helped draft the Mid-City market's organizational structure and assisted with health code compliance and promotions.

Many of the vendors who sold goods at the same site before Katrina became part of the Green Market, and since opening back in the spring of 2008 it's been a reliable Thursday spot for groceries and a bit of that bonhomie local markets incubate so well. But Smith says he knew he needed help to keep the market growing as he developed his wine business. When he started looking around for interested parties to take over the market, he learned that CCFM was ready to expand itself. They struck a deal handing back CCFM's old Mid-City market site, which Smith had essentially resuscitated and kept warm these past 21 months.

While the Green Market, its vendors and their customers proved the once-devastated area could indeed support a market, the change means CCFM can apply its greater resources and robust programming to the Mid-City slot. For instance, CCFM will accept food stamp payments and other assistance programs that are making farmers markets increasingly accessible to more residents.

But at least one unique aspect of the Green Market is likely to endure. Since Katrina, Smith also opened a wine bar called Clever just a few steps away from the market. It's connected to Cork & Bottle, where Smith hosts free wine tastings to coincide with the Thursday afternoon market.

Between these tastings and the bar at Clever, a low-key happy hour scene has developed on market days, and it's been common to see market shoppers socializing over drinks after their rounds at the market booths. Vendors often join them later on, making it all feel like a natural extension of the market space. These days, you can count on hearing toasts to the achievements of the Green Market and the promise of CCFM's return.

The final Mid-City Green Market is this Thursday, Dec. 17, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those who want to become vendors at the new CCFM market should submit interest forms online, or speak with CCFM staff who will be on hand at this final market from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The first – or resumed – Mid-City CCFM is scheduled for Jan. 14.

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