As two-dozen vendors set up their booths today for the new Crescent City Farmers Market at the French Market, they’ll be unpacking crabs and alligator meat from Des Allemands, sugar from the Acadiana cane fields, early-season satsumas from Plaquemines Parish, pasture-raised chicken from the North Shore and small-batch pastries, breads and pasta.
For those who still remember when the French Market was a destination for groceries and an epicenter of the region’s food culture, they may also be unpacking a strong dose of nostalgia, too. However, the leaders behind this collaborative market insist that their new project is no attempt to turn back the clock.
“The old model doesn’t exist anymore, we have grocery stores and distribution hubs,” said Jon Smith, executive director of the French Market Corp. “We have a different customer base today, the visitor profile is different, and we’ve tailored the market to respond to that. This is something new in the footprint of something very old.”
In fact, the market-within-a-market plan seems right in step with the renewed appreciation for locally harvested or handmade food and the burgeoning cottage industry producing it all. That’s evident around New Orleans today, and it’s a national interest more travelers pursue when they explore the city, including its historic public market.
The French Market’s partner in this new project, the Crescent City Farmers Market, spent the summer collecting surveys from shoppers, chefs, visitors and vendors to help guide their plans. That led to an emphasis on snacks and prepared foods to eat on the spot — or perhaps take away for picnics along the nearby riverfront parks — next to the fresh groceries and pantry staples. Some vendors will even ship these tastes of New Orleans back home for visitors.
The research also led to free parking for farmers market shoppers, in the lot between the market and the river, and chef-led cooking demos and live music to help animate the market’s open-air pavilion.
“Farmers markets themselves have to grow and change because people have so many other ways to shop,” said Kathryn Parker, who runs the Crescent City Farmers Market. “When they’re in places that have other uses, like this, you’re adding layers to what people come to experience. A place in the French Quarter just lends itself to fun.”
The new farmers market debuts today from 2-6 p.m. and continues each Wednesday. For details, see crescentcityfarmersmarket.org.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.