There is something peaceful and beautiful about the pre-dawn time when farm trucks arrive at the empty market space. Farmers, shaking off early morning haze, cradle coffee, call out “Good morning!” and begin the dance of unfolding tables, organizing baskets and carefully placing produce into a brightly colored tablescape of food art. Sometimes ships trolling the river blast their horns, and it is those sigh-inducing moments that set the stage for a morning of chatter, stuffing a market bag, menu planning—a connection with people, place and purpose.
New Orleans’ farmers markets are more than a place to grab the freshest, seasonal, local produce; they function as a community event, a social gathering, an information hub, a place to convene and eat. Many markets incorporate music, cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities, book signings and prepared foods, known as “value-added,” a mash-up of farm produce and creative culinary arts. Think stuffed breads, jellies and jams. Some markets even exist with the purpose of featuring local artists and their crafts, folded in with small food producers. These markets are among the best way to have a hyper-local experience—meet, greet, shop and eat.
The original New Orleans farmers market was the French Market in the French Quarter, near the Old U.S. Mint. Historians tell us that the market site was a Native American trading place before New Orleans was New Orleans. It operated as a burgeoning public market, and by the end of the 19th century was a cultural collective where French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Creole and African languages could be heard. The market flourished with butchers and fishmongers, cheese vendors and greengrocers from St. Bernard Parish, who trucked in produce to sell. The market’s success spawned roving street vendors and other spin-off markets that evolved citywide. In the 1930s and ’40s, public markets gave way to supermarkets and lost ground along with shoppers. By the mid-1990s, the French Market had devolved to become a tourist destination for flea-market finds of kitschy T-shirts, sunglasses and knockoff designer watches, mixed with a few craft booths and only a small showing of farm produce.
However, across the country, there was a resurgence of farmers markets, and New Orleans was not to be left out. In 1995 Richard McCarthy, then executive director of Market Umbrella, and a dedicated group of like-minded folks launched the Crescent City Farmers Market with a mission to “cultivate the field of public markets for public good.” The first market opened that year in September, on Saturdays, and was an almost immediate success. From there came a Tuesday market at what was once a shopping mall called Uptown Square, and a Thursday late-afternoon market in the parking area of a Mid-City factory-turned-apartment building. Most recently, the French Market partnered with Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market, to bring a Wednesday, midday produce market back to the French Quarter on Wednesdays.
The list of the city’s farmers markets continues to expand and evolve. The current scene is even more dynamic with large urban gardens scattered citywide; many grow specialty produce for a number of local restaurants. Area grocery stores dig in, putting together vegetable boxes and complete meals featuring Louisiana products. The changes in local cottage foods laws have broadened the ability of clever home cooks and crafters to grow their small food-related businesses. Access to these artisan foods and products burgeons with pop-up cafés, shops and specialty grocers, such as Simone’s Market. Gathering, foraging and focusing statewide, Simone’s bursts with pantry, dairy, meat and vegetables.
Meanwhile, marketing and community engagement is easier and better than ever, including an array of markets that exist beyond Orleans Parish lines that make for a great day-trip.
The French Market
Refreshed and revamped with covered areas and an indoor kitchen stage for cooking demonstrations, the French Market is home to many food-related festivals. Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, you’ll find produce, in addition to locally made food products and stellar prepared-food vendors. Every Wednesday, from 2 to 6 pm, there is a farmers’ market featuring local foods, chef-staged cooking demos and live music. A separate Saturday market takes place between 10 am and 2 pm. N. Peters and St. Philip streets.
Crescent City Farmers Market
Fresh produce, seafood, fish, meats, chicken, prepared foods, herbs, pastry, pesto, dairy and native plants are all found here. Along with the Wednesday French Market affair, Crescent City operates each Tuesday at Uptown Square, 9 am to 1 pm; Thursdays in the parking lot of Mid-City's American Can Co., 3 pm to 7 pm; and Saturdays in downtown New Orleans at Carondolet and Julia streets, 8 am to noon.
Covington Farmers Market
Catering to Northshore residents, this market offers fresh produce, local goods, plants and prepared foods. Wednesdays, 10 am to 2 pm, and Saturdays, 8 am to noon. Covington Trailhead, 419 N. New Hampshire, Covington
Camellia City Market
This Slidell-based farmers' market is devoted to regionally grown produce, “value added” goods and foods. Saturdays, 8 am to noon, at the City Parking Lot. Robert and Front streets, Slidell
Held the first Saturday of each month, this market incorporates food, art and flea items, with nearly 90 vendors, live music and kids activities. Freret St. and Napoleon Ave., New Orleans
German Coast Farmers Market
Held Wednesday afternoons, from 1 until 6 pm, in Luling on the Westbank, and Saturday mornings, 8 am until noon, in Destrehan on the East Bank. Both markets showcase produce, foodstuffs, crafts, education and live music. Westbank: 1313 Paul Maillard Rd., Luling; East Bank: 13786 River Rd., Destrehan
Gretna Farmers Market
Rain or shine, the Gretna Farmers Market features 30-plus vendors offering a broad range of fruits and vegetables, meats and flowers. Saturdays, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Gretna Market Place, 300 Huey P. Long Ave., Gretna
Harrison Avenue Market
A monthly evening market with more than 75 vendors, featuring food, drinks, crafts, family activities and live music. Held the second Wednesday of operating months, 5 to 8:30 pm. 801 Harrison Ave., New Orleans
Vietnamese Farmers Market
Twenty or so vendors set up blankets spread with produce, herbs, homemade tofu, eggs and more (live chickens and ducks) each Saturday from 6 to 9 am in New Orleans East. The courtyard houses shops selling Vietnamese baked goods and groceries. 14401 Alcee Fortier Blvd., New Orleans East
Westwego Farmers & Fisheries Market
This Westbank market offers numerous booths selling seafood, citrus, farm-fresh eggs, jellies, pickles, cakes, pies, prepared foods and crafts. Saturdays, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Sala Ave. and Fourth St., Westwego