|Photos by Lucius Fontenot|
As the weather warms and the sun shines a little longer each day, many of the Cajun Country farmers markets (i.e., those markets not located in Lafayette proper) are opening back up for business. Acadiana offers an impressive array of markets within just an hour’s drive of Lafayette. And each market boasts unique foods and wares that are endemic to the market and reflective of the region.
“We are blessed to have so many talented artisans and producers who are selling their products direct to our consumers through our farmers markets,” says Dr. Carrie Castille, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s associate commissioner for public policy and senior adviser to the commissioner. “Each of these markets showcase their own unique culture, cuisine and people. Each with a different story to tell about how their crops are grown, animals are cared for and family traditions.”
Farmers markets have become increasingly popular with regional markets popping up in towns and cities throughout the U.S. Since 2006, the number of farmers markets throughout the country have doubled, and in Cajun Country this is no exception. In the 22-parish area, there are now 15 farmers markets, not to mention the many farm stands scattered throughout the parishes, often on roadsides.
To the north of Lafayette reside the Eunice Farmers Market, the Opelousas Farmers Market and the Coushatta Farmers’ Market.
The Eunice Farmers Market in downtown Eunice is open year-round on Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and on Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. while the Opelousas Farmers Market on East St. Landry Street is open year-round on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6:30-10:30 a.m. Only a short drive to the west, the Coushatta Farmers’ Market, located in Elton, is also open year-round on Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-noon.
“The Elton market is unique in that it was established and is maintained by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana,” says Marti Harrell, coordinator for the Creole Market in New Iberia. “It is culturally different because it attracts the prairie Cajuns instead of the coastal Cajuns. Much of the produce is grown in hydroponic greenhouses, so tomatoes and other produce are available in the off-season.”
To the southwest of Lafayette are the Abbeville Farmers’ Market, open from 8 a.m.-noon on select Saturdays throughout the year in Magdalen Square (the next date is April 12), and Kaplan Farmers Market located in Turnley Park and open on the second Saturday of each month from 8 a.m.-noon.
Kaplan Farmers Market is an example of how community leaders are recognizing the importance of weekend markets in providing opportunities to interface with community members. On March 8, Kaplan Farmers Market will hold a special “Meet the Candidates” event in which political hopefuls will attend the market to answer questions and promote their platforms.
Directly south of Lafayette is the Erath Farmers’ Market held selected dates March through November from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Erath City Park (the next market is March 29).
Iberia Parish, to the southeast of Lafayette, hosts five farmers markets. New Iberia is home to the Teche Area Farmer’s Market in Bouligny Plaza, held year-round on Tuesday from 2:30-6 p.m. and Saturday from 7-11 a.m., and the Creole Market in West End Park, open year-round from 8 a.m.-noon on the fourth Saturday of each month.
The Creole Market launched in August of 2013 as a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant project in an effort to provide fresh, local foods to the West End Park area of New Iberia. The West End district is located in a part of town with no walking access to healthy foods. These areas are known as food deserts because of little to no fresh food options in the vicinity and are being recognized as areas of concern by grant projects and nonprofit organizations.
“Not only has the West End district and target demographic embraced the market, but the larger community is coming out to support the market,” says Harrell. “This support is necessary for a market to be sustainable. In December, we had in the ballpark of 700 to 800 people. People were lined up with their reusable shopping bags waiting for the market bell to ring … and the market has just recently been established.”
The official grand opening for the Creole Market is March 22 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.. The event will be complete with music, arts and crafts, an NAACP United Blood Service drive and more.
The remaining three Iberia markets are Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market, Jeanerette Farmer’s Market and Gonsoulin Land and Cattle Meat Market. Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market is held on the first Saturday of the month seasonally from 8 a.m.-noon starting April 8 at the Shrimp Festival Association Grounds. The Jeanerette Farmer’s Market is held in City Park on the second Saturday of each month seasonally from 8 a.m.-noon and resumes March 8. The March Jeanerette Farmer’s Market will also host a spring fling and the first annual Sugar Rush 5k Run/Walk benefitting Acadiana’s Hope for a Cure Society. Finally, Loreauville is the site of a privately owned year-round Wednesday farmers market from 2-6 p.m. at the Gonsoulin Land and Cattle Meat Market. The market is open for community members to vend produce, preserves, and sustainably, locally grown and produced foods.
“Our farmers markets are one of the best ways to increase the public awareness of the importance of Louisiana agriculture,” says Castille. “These are great opportunities to learn first-hand where our food comes from and meet the good people that grow it.”
Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist, past president of Acadiana Food Circle (www.AcadianaFoodCircle.org) and co-coordinator of Pig & Plough Suppers, a slow foods dinner series celebrating our Louisiana foodways by promoting chef collaborations that feature foods grown and raised in South Louisiana.