Storms unite our region

Already it seems like a lifetime ago when officials, media outlets and citizens were gearing up for the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina 29 August 2008. Since, our region has been pummeled by two major storms bringing massive evacuations, surprises, and lessons for life in water. Nowhere have these issues been more evident than at our farmers market. Eavesdropping on a number of conversations reveals the fragility of our community, our ecology, and economy.

Less than four days after Hurricane Gustav hammered South Louisiana, the Crescent City Farmers Market resumed operations at its Saturday location 6 September 2008. For those who were lucky enough to be back in the city to ponder the purchase of food and therefore the promise of refrigeration, it was indeed a glorious day. We were back, together to reconvene on the neutral ground between urban and rural, supply and demand that is the farmers market. 

While many of the farmers and fishers were unable to return that quickly, 14 reassembled for retail activity on the Saturday morning. Another 16 did so on the following Tuesday. This is a far cry from the ten weeks it took after Katrina. Our emergency management systems are improving. It is also worth recalling how impish Gustav was in comparison to Katrina. While Hurricane Ike churned off shore and into our inland waters, we managed to maintain market operations without interruption. Indeed, these significant feats of managerial strength are due to hard work from a very capable staff.

And yet, what does this say about the state of our regional community? By all accounts, most folks are so beaten down by stress, travel, and the financial drag of forced hurrications. You can tell by the way they're driving. At the best of times, drivers are less than reliable in this land of drive-through daiquiris. In mid September 2008, it's the living dead behind the wheels. 

There are some bright spots: State officials and local chefs agreed to find the means to deliver hot, culturally appropriate disaster meals to the displaced (at prices cheaper than MREs); and generations and extensions of families bunked in together during and after storms. And while no one would request such sleeping arrangements, it is worth noting that our region has had more time to bond, to consider the big questions in life, like why do we live here? What's it all about, etc., than most regions do in a lifetime. 

And that brings us to Texas. Many of us spent the past week contacting and worrying about friends, relations in the mega city of Houston. Indeed, watching the images of the soggy neighborhoods in Houston briefly took our attention away from the rising water in Venetian Isles, Lafitte, Grand Isle, etc. It also brought many of us back to those early Katrina days when we were so totally thrown into disarray with images of flooded neighborhoods.

From our perspective as farmers market operators, what does all of this mean? First, we recognize just how vulnerable our way of life remains in this water world of coastal Louisiana. We can and should demand better protection. Indeed, listening to stories from our farmers and fishers, we are reminded of how under served they are by systems of insurance, government planning or even concern. Farmers have lost green houses and more. Fishers have lost infrastructure -- fuel, ice at docks. And yet, they suffer through crises much the same way that they succeed: on the edges of the mainstream and in solidarity with the consumers and communities that host them at market.

As we look westward to Houston, we wish that we already more nuggets of wisdom to share with the newest members of the disaster club. In our case, we have been working on creating just those documents; however, we couldn't work quickly enough to be of use to the current disaster. That is, other than the most important lesson: Our greatest strength is each other. Indeed, this is what brings us all to market in mid September -- even when the variety of offerings at market is greatly diminished by wind, rain and surge.     

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Market Umbrella


Market Umbrella is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3), based in New Orleans, whose mission is to cultivate the field of public markets for public good. Market Umbrella has operated the Crescent City Farmers Markets (CCFM) since 1995.

Crescent City Farmers Market


The Crescent City Farmers Market operates weekly year-round in four New Orleans neighborhoods. The CCFM hosts nearly 80 local small farmers, fishers and food producers, and more than 100,000 shoppers annually.