The basic idea behind the Crescent City Farmers Market seems straightforward enough: Create a venue where New Orleanians can buy fresh food directly from the people who harvested it. For his efforts to make it happen, Farmers Market executive director Richard McCarthy recently won a “Heroes of the New South Award” from Southern Living magazine.
“People were very doubtful in the beginning,” says McCarthy, who founded the market in 1995 along with local civic activist Sharon Litwin. “The city’s once-thriving public market system was a dark and distant memory.”
Southern Living’s award program is intended to recognize individuals and organizations around the South that reflect the region’s diversity and make extraordinary contributions to its culture, and McCarthy won in the “foodways” category. Winners were chosen by a panel of jurors, one of whom, John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, said McCarthy’s achievements represent “one of the most innovative and catalytic farmers’ market efforts in the U.S.”
The runner-up in the foodways category was New Orleans culinary activity Poppy Tooker, who was recognized for her work to preserve traditional Louisiana recipes and ingredients.
Since its inception, the Crescent City Farmers Market has evolved into three weekly markets held in different neighborhoods, with a combined economic impact of about $10 million dollars a year, and the group provides research and advocacy to foster other markets of all types.
Along the way, the group has developed pioneering programs aimed at dismantling the notion that a farmers market is a luxury for the well-heeled, and McCarthy says he’s most proud of these efforts to make the market more accessible to all. For instance, the market has incentives for low-income seniors and people using SNAP (still commonly called “food stamps”).
“It’s being able to make it accessible to the most vulnerable members of our society and invite them to join the food revolution as paying partners,” says McCarthy. “It’s not this Stalinist finger-pointing about how you must eat this and not that. It’s more welcoming, saying ‘come on in, there are good things happening here.’”