The news last week that Hollygrove Market & Farm had shut down spread quickly among those who valued the access to fresh, local food it provided.
But nowhere did the news hit harder than among the small-scale farmers and producers who supplied that food. They relied on Hollygrove and its larger distribution network as an important vehicle to sell their goods to the region's biggest urban market.
Now efforts are gaining steam to help support those farmers, and that starts with the shopping basket.
Other area hubs for locally-produced food are talking with past Hollygrove vendors, and trying to connect former Hollygrove shoppers with other venues where they can find them.
“We know farmers are very vulnerable at this time, they lack a lot of the safety nets that other businesses have and something like this really hurts,” said Kathryn Parker, executive director of Market Umbrella, the parent organization for the four Crescent City Farmers Markets held across New Orleans (see schedules at crescentcityfarmersmarket.org).
“It’s already been a hard year for farmers with all this unseasonable weather we had, and when you can’t plan on a loss like this it makes everything even worse,” she said.
Many local food producers sell through multiple markets, so there is some overlap between Hollygrove’s roster of suppliers and those of other venues.
As a first step, the Crescent City Farmers Market has been contacting those vendors it has in common and encouraging them to coordinate with regular customers. Parker pointed out that many savvy vendors will arrange pre-orders and make other accommodations to fit customers’ own shopping schedules.
Next steps for the Crescent City Farmers Market could include adding more vendors, and it’s also looking at options for online ordering systems that could connect more producers and shoppers.
Grant Estrade’s phone has also been ringing since Hollygrove shut down. He runs Laughing Buddha Nursery in Metairie, which has lately been expanding its own local food production and sales, including heritage pork and pastured eggs.
On Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the plant nursery has been holding a small farmers market called Metairie Marche. Some former Hollygrove vendors have been in touch and will have their produce there now. Some will have produce for sale in the nursery’s store through the week and through a direct-to-consumers food delivery system Laughing Buddha has developed in a number of New Orleans neighborhoods.
“These farms have fantastic product, they have plenty of it, the biggest hurdles to overcome are logistical,” said Estrade. “Hollygrove is gone, but the farmers are still there, so we want to focus on them.”
Estrade is helping coordinate a meeting dubbed Meet Your Farmer, is aimed at connecting farmers, consumers and markets and discussing access issues and possible answers. It's scheduled for March 28, at 6 p.m., at Second Line Brewing (433 N. Bernadotte St.).
Hollygrove occupied a unique niche in the landscape of local food access and education. Formed in 2008, it combined an urban farm with a market for small-scale local growers and an education center. It was a pioneer in the wave of modern urban farming that took root here after Hurricane Katrina.
Its retail component grew into an indoor farmers market for daily shopping. The organization also assembled weekly boxes of produce, in the manner of community-supported agriculture programs, and it supplied restaurants, which frequently printed the name Hollygrove on their menus as a byword for local sourcing.
But after declining sales and mounting debt, the market and all of its other operations shut down on Monday. Hollygrove general manager Paul Baricos threw out the possibility that the program could return under a different organization.
On Wednesday, he noted that through an outpouring of support since the closure some new ideas are under consideration.
“We are looking at ways we could reorganize, and if not us maybe someone else could come in and do something similar,” Baricos said. “Our landlord has been very understanding. There may be room to work with someone here.”
Hollygrove’s travails follow a number of other closures that ended once-promising venues for local food producers and their customers.
In 2015, the much-lauded Silicon Valley start-up Good Eggs, which resembled an online, delivery-based farmers market, shut down its New Orleans operation, along with offshoots in other cities.
Cleaver & Co., an Uptown butcher shop that started as an outlet for locally-raised meats, closed in 2017, after shifting through different incarnations.
March 28, 6 p.m.
Second Line Brewing (433 N. Bernadotte St.)
Note: this story has been update with meeting information.
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