May Day! May Day! An Event Horizon?

It was just beginning to feel as though the tide was turning here in New Orleans. Approaching Katrina plus five, we've been licking our wounds, rekindling communities battered by nature, engineering failures, and syrupy slow government assistance. Once again, our region is plunged into ecological uncertainty. Eleven workers died in the explosion on the BP deepwater oil platform named Horizon, sending a seemingly endless spew of oil from the Gulf's floor and towards the fragile Gulf Coast only days before the scheduled beginning of the spring brown shrimp season.

At this stage, there is little that we know for certain. Among the few known knowns is that the major brown shrimp season will not occur this spring in order to allow the juvenile brown shrimp to mature while we study Gulf currents and the impending doom. Amidst the blessings of the fleets, commercial fishing communities await the news from authorities as to progress at the Gulf floor to turn off the spicket. Meanwhile, the rumor mill is awash with conflicting assertions. Will this destroy life on the Gulf Coast? Will they evacuate New Orleans southward due to poor air quality, and so on.

Fully aware that the scale and impact of the BP industrial disaster may be far worse than even the most hysterical of projections, we are also painfully aware that we are emersed in a culture of disaster recovery. Over the past five years, we are more familiar with disaster and its ramifications than are we with tranquility. Visionary writer Rebecca Solnit describes in great detail the exuberance that is felt post-disaster. We do not suggest that there are crowds rejoicing the arrival of our next disaster; however, there is a strange tone we detect in the many, many emails we have received. It is as if, "finally we get to some work with real clarity and excitement."

shrimp lineWhat are we to do? We are managers and proponents of farmers markets. Our offer to the world is to manage public spaces where you may purchase seafood directly from the families who harvest creatures from our coastal waters (for as long as supplies last). In addition to the products procured, these are places where fishers can speak freely for themselves, informing the general public about the complex web of waterways, regulations, and the status of disaster. On May Day, Saturday, May 1, 2010, shoppers began lining up to purchase shrimp in advance of the opening bell. The first shopper requested 45 pounds, the next one 50 pounds, etc. You can imagine just how long the 350 pounds of freshly harvested shrimp lasted.

Hopping between conference calls and email blasts offering volunteer labor for clean up crews, we consider appropriate action. After Katrina, we felt compelled to help our fishing families find new markets for their goods while our local ones hobbled along. In the spring of 2006, the White Boot Brigade marched into New York City selling brown shrimp to white table cloth restaurants. Concerned that Louisiana seafood was earning the unfair distinction as toxic, we struck out into the world in search of allies who could demonstrate solidarity in their purchasing practices. Is a similar strategy needed today? Stay tuned as we continue to evaluate what path this unfolding crisis may take.

We are tuned into news from various sources, including the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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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.