Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back to the Future

So much of our travel centers around the special foods of an area, so whenever we hear of a local farmers' market being available, we are there.

So that is how we found ourselves at the Tuesday Market of the
Crescent City Farmers Market on Broadway in the Uptown section of New Orleans. (We wondered how many of the city’s restaurants were represented this Tuesday by their chefs or staff.)

Now these markets have a special appeal for both of us--for me, as a back yard gardener, and for Kate, as the creator of marvelous salads and dishes using garden fresh ingredients. So, we took some time to read up on the history of the Crescent City Farmers Market.

“'The markets are a prominent feature in a description of New Orleans. They are numerous and dispersed to suit the convenience of citizens. The greatest market day is Sunday, during the morning. At break of day the gathering commences--youth and age, beauty and not-so-beautiful--all colors, nations and tongues are commingled in one heterogeneous mass of delightful confusion . . . . The traveler, who leaves the city without visiting one of the popular markets on Sunday morning, has suffered a rare treat to escape him' (Benjamin M. Norman, Norman's New Orleans and Environs, 1845).

"Had Benjamin Norman revisited New Orleans 150 years after he wrote those words, he would surely have been disappointed. By 1995, the public markets that so delighted him had all but disappeared from New Orleans, victims, as in cities throughout the country, to the twentieth century's push toward 'progress' and modernization.

"...For many immigrants, the public market provided them with an entry point into the economy as small-scale entrepreneurs. Many of
the city’s corner groceries and food processors began as stalls at the public markets. Stall rents were low and shoppers were plentiful. Cheese mongers, fish sellers, butchers and green grocers provided New Orleans shoppers with basic necessities--calas tout chauds (fried cakes), pralines, estomac mulâtre (gingerbread), filé powder (for gumbo), and po’boy sandwiches, to name a few.

"Sicilian truck farmers from St. Bernard Parish carted in crops like creole artichokes, tomatoes, garlic and fava beans. Coastal fishermen--many originally from the Canary Islands, China and Croatia--would market oysters, shrimp, crawfish and a wide selection of fish.

"...Over time, spinoff businesses from the markets began to circulate
throughout the city. Residents who could not get to market could purchase yard-fresh eggs, straw-berries, milk and prepared foods like fried oysters right from their doorsteps. Roving street vendors would make regular rounds through neighborhoods, singing songs announcing their products, while others offered services such as scissors grinding, chimney sweeping and tin smithery.

"After World War II, the City of New Orleans began to privatize many of the older public markets, which had fallen into disrepair during the Great Depression. Even though many new markets were constructed under the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s, demographic shifts to the suburbs and the rise of supermarkets chipped away at the old public markets, which steadily lost customers and vendors.

"By 1995, virtually all that remained of the old public market system was the French Market, which had lost most of its food vendors but had been transformed into a major tourist attraction, with a busy flea market, several adjacent restaurants and shops, and the world famous coffee and beignet stand Cafe du Monde.

"But a remarkable change was afoot in New Orleans and all over the
country. People were re-discovering the benefits of public markets: the superior taste and ecological soundness of locally produced food, the social interaction fostered by open-air markets, and the economic leg up markets provide small-scale farms and producers. Farmers markets began to crop up in cities and small towns throughout America. In New Orleans, the Crescent City Farmers Market made its debut, eventually expanding to four
markets scattered throughout the city. Since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005, the market has scaled back to three days per week. With support from, other farmers markets have been and continue to be launched in neighborhoods still rebuilding from the storm, joining ones already established in several suburban New Orleans locations" (

Every time we find one of these farmers markets, we think of the time when each day began with a trip to the market for that day's meals. Freshness would trump convenience. If only it were that easy to shop at the corner market every day.

Plant a garden. Learn to bake bread. Until then, shop at a farmers market.

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