Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013
If the green movement was all the rage in the 1990s and 2000s, then local is the new green. The local foods movement is sweeping the United States. Farmers markets, which allow consumers to directly interact with the producers growing and raising their foods, are leading the trend. Farmers markets offer an experience that groceries are not able to provide; customers can stroll past tents and shop for locally raised, fresh produce and meats.
Consumers have an opportunity to get information on merchandise directly from the producer should a question about a food's ingredients or genesis arise. In short, farmers markets offer a socially stimulating and interactive shopping experience.
"Farmers markets give us the opportunity to meet new people and expand our community circle with people from all walks of life," says Sal Lopinto of the Lafayette based slow foods non-profit Acadiana Food Circle. "[People] who share a common vision of growing a healthy future with more awareness, knowledge sharing, and enjoyment of what we're building together."
Since last year, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has increased more than 3.5 percent. In Acadiana alone, two markets opened this year, making for a total of 10 markets in the area with four of those located in Lafayette.
For decades, the Acadiana Farmers Market, tucked away at the intersection of Dulles and Foreman drives, was the only place to consistently buy locally grown and raised items in Lafayette. In 2008, Hub City Farmers' Market opened in the Oil Center offering pesticide-free, local food options. In 2011, Freetown Farmer's Market, located in the Freetown area of downtown Lafayette, joined the roster and became the first neighborhood market and the only weekday market, operating on Wednesdays from 2-6 p.m. as well as Saturdays. And recently, in June of 2013, Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm (affectionately called the Horse Farm Market) opened, utilizing community green space centrally located in Lafayette.
Each market has something different to offer depending on what patrons are seeking.
"I love that we have a market downtown. It has a neighborhood feel. People walk over, come on bikes, etc," says Jeanne Plaisance, owner and operator of Homegrown Organics of Lafayette. "We cater to folks that live in Freetown, downtown and Saint Streets. Students, teachers, artists, musicians, all the people that love and appreciate being downtown come to our market."
Each market also plays hosts to unique vendors. For example, if you are looking for fresh, local milk from grass-fed cows, visit Hill Crest Creamery at Hub City Farmers' Market. If locally grown watermelons are what you are in search of, visit Robin Farms at Acadiana Farmers Market. If you are in need of a pork belly, see Bayou Farm at the Horse Farm Market. And, finally, if you have a pumpkin curry bread envie, stop by Henri's at Freetown Farmer's Market (and pick-up some of Homegrown Organic's delicious microgreens while you're at it). In addition to produce, meats, breads and dairy, each market offers plants, artwork, clothing, local honeys, kombuchas and kefirs, and artisanal products featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables. Additionally, Hub City and the Horse Farm markets have live music, and Hub City Farmers' Market boasts local artwork and crafts exhibits on the third Saturday of each month.
The Horse Farm is playing host to several events in the coming months. On Sept. 14, the Master Gardeners will team up with the Horse Farm Market organizers for PlantFest. This will also serve as the Horse Farm Market's grand opening event.
"The Market is partnering with the Master Gardeners to create the biggest Horse Farm event ever," says Stacey Lee, a volunteer at the Horse Farm. "It's a natural partnership among a wide variety of participants in celebration of all things nature.' The Master Gardener Plant Sale will be the focus of the event. We will also offer free, guided tours of the back of the property, and a wide variety of presentations, clinics and workshops by LSU AgCenter specialists and other experts." Lee says the Lafayette Art Association will hold a juried nature-themed art exhibit, and kids can enjoy a large selection of nature-related activities. "Local musicians will entertain, and local eateries will provide a wide variety of delicious offerings," she adds.
In October, the Horse Farm will host Gulf Brew on the 19th and the third annual Acadiana Food Day Celebration on the 26th. Local foods seem to have found a place in all of these events, as Gulf Brew will feature a local foods cooking demo, and Food Day is the national celebration of slow foods. Similar to PlantFest, Acadiana Food Day will team up with the Horse Farm market for their event.
"Local foods, farmers markets and particularly unique events that partner with farmers markets create a special experience for the community in which people are able to come out and support the people [who] produce our food while giving to a cause that we believe in," says Jonathan Kastner, the newly appointed director of Acadiana Food Circle. "Throw in a good venue with activities and music and food and it is no wonder farmers markets are thriving."
Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and president of Acadiana Food Circle (www.AcadianaFoodCircle.org), a community-based nonprofit that connects local food producers to consumers.