Best known for farm-fresh produce and other edibles, the organization behind the Crescent City Farmers Market has diversified to take on projects as varied as promoting grassroots charitable funds and creating an online economic assessment tool. To reflect the broader sweep of its projects and future ambitions, the organization is marking its 10th anniversary this fall with a new name and identity: MarketUmbrella.org, which is also the address of its new Web site.
The local farmers market began in September 1995, as a small green market of 15 vendors run by the Economics Institute, a nonprofit housed at Loyola University. More than just selling food, the market’s aim from the start has been to encourage ecologically sound economic development, says Richard McCarthy, a co-founder of the Economic Institute and its executive director. Along the way, he says, the market’s staff, vendors and supporters have become adept at solving problems that other organizations may also encounter.
“We try something, refine it and then see if it can be replicated elsewhere,” says McCarthy. “We share what we learn so others don’t have to make the same mistakes.”
The organization offers consulting services for a fee and also has a growing roster of publications and studies available for sale or for free to others. The market’s Web site offers its SEED economic impact assessment tool for other markets and its annual conference, called the 4M Workshop (for markets, meeting places, mentoring and models), is hosted each year for leaders of markets across the country. This summer, the Economics Institute introduced a project called Crop Circles as a model for raising money in communities for common causes.
Today, the organization runs four markets each week in neighborhoods across town. Together, these markets draw an estimated 3,000 shoppers each week and rang up sales of $1.7 million last year for the 60 to 70 vendors who regularly participate. The markets themselves have evolved as well, with the additions of projects such as a holiday gift market for local artisans and vendors called Festivus and a roving shrimp market called the White Boot Brigade in honor of the footwear preferred by so many Louisiana shrimpers.