Last fall, the French Market debuted a weekly farmers market as part of a push to revive the historic venue’s role as a food hub for the city. Now, the French Market is preparing to double down on that effort, with plans taking shape to add a second weekly market each Saturday.
It’s slated to begin March 7, with 12 to 15 vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, handmade prepared foods and ready-to-eat snacks.
The French Market, which is now recruiting vendors, hopes the new market day will draw urban farmers cultivating small plots around the city and other artisan food makers just getting their own businesses off the ground.
“I want to create a market for them because I know they’re out there and I want them to continue growing,” said Elisa Munoz, the newly hired market development manager for the French Market.
In October, the city-run French Market began hosting a new edition of the Crescent City Farmers Market in conjunction with Market Umbrella, the nonprofit that operates three other weekly farmers markets around town. That market continues each Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. with about 20 vendors.
Since Market Umbrella already runs a Saturday market at Magazine and Girod streets, the French Market will run this new market itself, said Jon Smith, the French Market’s executive director. He described the move as “the logical next step” in building the French Market’s potential draw as a food destination for residents and visitors.
Vendors for the Saturday market would set up temporary stands in the same covered portion of the French Market used on Wednesdays. That area is now used by craft vendors on Saturdays; Smith said they would relocate to other areas of the French Market when the new farmers market begins.
It will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the option for vendors to keep longer hours if they wish. Smith is confident there are enough potential vendors and shoppers to support the idea.
“This one is a different day of the week, with a different vendor mix, and we think it will draw different shoppers,” he said. “People have different travel patterns. Someone who can’t get here on a Wednesday between 2 and 6 p.m. might have all the time in the world to visit on a Saturday.”
Munoz, who was previously market manager for Market Umbrella, explained that the new Saturday market will have rules intended to avoid stripping vendors from the Crescent City Farmers Market’s ongoing markets.
For instance, vendors who already sell with the Crescent City Farmers Market on Saturdays aren’t eligible for the French Market’s new Saturday event. Vendors who already are part of the Wednesday market at the French Market must continue with that market in order to be eligible to participate in Saturday’s edition.
Saturday is already a big day for farmers markets around the New Orleans area, with weekly events in Slidell, Gretna, Covington, Destrehan and multiple sites in the city.
However, Munoz believes the French Market’s expanded schedule will add an option for growers and food producers who have had a difficult time finding a spot at other markets because of timing, location or their own small production levels. She said that is often the case for urban farmers, a booming niche around the city, with growers cultivating small harvests on former house lots and other land.
“I think this can become an incubator for them,” Munoz said. “I’d love to see lots of smaller vendors here trying out new things and seeing what works, and hopefully growing their businesses as we grow our market.”
The French Market dates to 1791 and ranks as the country’s oldest public market. Although in recent times it may be best known for the souvenirs and gifts sold in its flea market area, earlier in its history the market brimmed with fresh foods as part of a citywide network of public marketplaces.
Recently, the market has been tapping that long tradition to lure more visitors. In addition to adding the Crescent City Farmers Market, the market last spring revamped its longtime Creole Tomato Festival, adding more restaurant vendors and creating a new gala dinner event in its market hall. And late last month, the ranks of cafés and food bars at the market saw the addition of Continental Provisions, a sandwich shop run as a collaboration among the local cheese monger St. James Cheese Co., Bellegarde Bakery and the butcher shop Cleaver & Co.
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