Celebrating Farmers Markets in Louisiana
Posted On: August 17, 2016
by Jen Cheek, Executive Director
The Farmers Market Coalition joined the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Central Louisiana last week to officially kick off National Farmers Market Week. Events included a roundtable discussion among key local agriculture players throughout the state, followed by a visit to the Inglewood Barn Harvest Market in Alexandria, Louisiana. Past trips for National Farmers Market Week have focused on bustling metropolitan areas—Washington DC, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Madison, Wisconsin to name a few. This year, USDA AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer sought out rural markets to highlight and explore. The dynamics of rural markets differ from their urban counterparts, but the results remain the same: economic opportunity for entrepreneurs, increased availability of fresh produce, and a strong sense of community pride and partnership of enthusiastic, hard working people making it happen.
Our time in Louisiana began with a roundtable discussion hosted in collaboration with the Baton Rouge Economic & Agricultural Development Agency (BREADA)—the group that runs the amazing Red Stick Farmers Market among other initiatives. BREADA’s Executive Director, Copper Alvarez, who also serves as FMC’s Vice President, welcomed the group of nearly 40 leaders in Louisiana agriculture, economic development, conservation, and higher education to share successes, and address barriers to local food expansion in the state. The meeting had two goals: to build relationships between agencies and organizations working toward common causes, and to begin to find creative solutions to some of the issues hampering growth within Louisiana’s local food sector.
The following day, at the Inglewood Harvest Barn Market, a memo of understanding (MOU) was signed between the USDA AMS, the Louisiana State Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Rural Development Agency, and the Central Louisiana Economic Development Authority, stating that the agencies would continue to work together to help support the growth of specialty crops, and develop the distribution infrastructure required to get locally grown products directly into Louisiana’s communities. The MOU will serve to build on the momentum gained at Friday’s roundtable, and help to coalesce efforts of varying groups and agencies.
The momentum and excitement around the event makes the terrible flooding that has taken place in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas over the past couple days even more devastating. Everyone at the Farmers Market Coalition is thinking of the many farmers and farmers markets in the area whose work has been derailed by the disaster. If you’re looking for ways to help, please consider donating to BREADA’s Small Farm Support Fund. The fund, which was established in 2005, provides grant support to small farmers around Baton Rouge who experience loss from both natural disasters and personal tragedies. They could certainly use your help at this time.
I’m grateful to the USDA AMS, BREADA, Inglewood Farms, and everyone who provided incredible conversations and a warm welcome to us in Louisiana. National Farmers Market Week is over, but we’ll continue celebrating the great work of markets all year round.