It is almost impossible to think of New Orleanian culture without food. The resounding crunch of a Duong Phong roll on a fried catfish po’boy, the sensation of syrupy sugar coating your tongue as a praline dissolves in your mouth, and the ignition of a balmy fire within your stomach after shoveling a spoonful of fiery gumbo into your mouth are all synonymous with the identity of New Orleans. These dishes and ingredients create a sense of camaraderie between Louisianians and tourists who flow through the city every year. Thanks to the city’s farmer’s markets, individuals can utilize local ingredients to savor these captivating flavors at home. The Crescent City Farmer’s Market provides a space where patrons can revel in the regional foods of Louisiana, while supporting local producers and businesses. While operating under the New Orleans non-profit, Market Umbrella, since 1995, the Crescent City Farmers Market has acted as a link between producers and consumers. Moreover, the market holds a series of initiatives that aim to help those affected by food insecurity.
The Cresent City Farmer’s Market operates three weekly markets throughout the year to showcase a wide variety of products that are locally grown or made in Louisiana, while benefitting local businesses in the surrounding area. The market can be found on Sundays in City Park from 8 a.m. to noon, on Tuesdays in Uptown from 8 a.m. to noon, and on Thursdays in Mid-City from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., where over 60 rotating vendors sell their goods. For Tulane students, the Tuesday market is a 0.9 mile walk from the center of campus, which provides students with an easy opportunity to become involved in the local economy. The CCFM ensures that only local producers and family farmers are represented at the market by mandating that all producers must be located less than 400 miles from New Orleans. The market allows producers to sell their own produce, while minimizing the money spent on packaging, processing, and transportation. The cost of selling products in a retail setting, like grocery stores, leaves farmers with a only portion of the revenue that they could make by selling their goods independently or within the market. New Orleanians can strengthen their local economy by spending money on family farmers who know the regional produce and can offer their expertise on specialized food. As consumers visit the market, they are more likely to visit other businesses in the surrounding area, resulting in a bonus of economic stimulation.
The financial influence that the CCFM has on the local economy can be measured through the Sticky Economic Evaluation Device (known as SEED), which “captures the impact of an initial round of spending plus successive rounds of re-spending of the initial dollars within a region” (SEED Report). This tool allows the non-profit to calculate their influence on financial capital within New Orleans. Before the COVID pandemic, the Crescent City Farmer’s Market had “produce[d] a combined economic impact of $12.59 million upon their vendors, host neighborhoods, and the surrounding region,” according to the SEED report (Market Umbrella). This measure of economic development reinforces one of the core values of the Market Umbrella non-profit, which partly emphasizes goals of influencing financial development in the region.
Apart from influencing the regional economy, Market Umbrella has focused on addressing food insecurity and improving the health of those in the community by providing avenues for purchasing fresh and healthy food for food insecure customers. At Tulane, students may not be cognizant of the struggles that many people are enduring because of economic inequity and lacking the access to enough food or nutritionally sufficient food. By becoming aware of these issues and how to subsequently address them, actions can be taken to make sure that food insecurity can one day diminish into food sovereignty.
Food insecurity is not a new problem in Louisiana or New Orleans, but its severity has increased drastically after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, New Orleans has seemingly stagnated in addressing hunger among the population, especially after COVID caused the food crisis to be exacerbated further as Louisiana grew to have the “second highest rate of food insecurity in the nation” (Fitzgerald, 2018). The disparity between neighborhoods in accessibility to fresh food stems from the presence of food deserts in New Orleans. These areas are subdivisions in communities that are generally low-income and where most residents have “low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable food” (Ploeg, Nulph, & Williams). Areas that classify as food deserts instead rely on fast food and gas stations as sources of nourishment, which do not provide food that can adequately promote a healthy diet. As those living in food deserts only have access to these stores, the correlations between food deserts and “obesity, premature death, and chronic health conditions” are linked to the underlying problem of economic inequity and poverty. The communities reported as food deserts in Louisiana contain the characteristics of food insecure communities with low-income households, a lack of transportation, and severe health problems related to inadequate nutrition. Throughout the city, food insecurity must be addressed through action within the government and within the community, in order to ensure that all New Orleanians’ basic needs are met.
In areas experiencing food insecurity, food banks take on an influential role in combatting hunger, though they cannot be a solution of permanent relief for families experiencing food insecurity. Food banks operate by offering donated groceries and cooked meals to food insecure communities; however, the nutritional value of these meals cannot be ensured (Fitzgerald 2018). A prominent New Orleans food bank, Second Harvest Food Bank, became the largest food bank in the world in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Second Harvest distributes more than 32 million meals each year across Southern Louisiana as they partner with 700+ community partners (Second Harvest). Also, Second Harvest reduces food waste by accepting food donations that would otherwise go to waste. The breadth of this organization makes it an impactful component of the fight against food insecurity as they utilize their mobile pantries to reach populations that do not have access to transportation, which prevents food insecure households from procuring healthy groceries. As the number of people who qualify as food insecure increases, so does the need for donations and volunteers to join Second Harvest. Either through volunteering one’s money or time, supporting Second Harvest is a valuable way to contribute to improving access to food to food insecure communities throughout Southern Louisiana. Donations to Second Harvest can be submitted on their website, and various volunteer opportunities are available as well.
The combined prominence of fast-food chains and lack of grocery outlets in neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts exemplifies the absence of available fresh food. The crisis can be diminished through governmental action. Louisiana’s state government could aid grocery stores with the support of government subsidies to entice them to open locations in areas that do not have access to affordable food otherwise. This intervention from the government could influence stores to locate in areas where they would not normally deem the location as profitable. The USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative awards grants to invest capital into retailers that promote access to fresh food in areas that are underserved (USDA). After the COVID pandemic, the USDA announced that they aimed to increase funding to this program by $155 million, as well as other projects that will aid markets and consumers. In gas station mini marts, the government could introduce initiatives to supply these stores with healthier options, while maintaining the affordable prices. Retail outlets could promote accessibility to fresh food by accepting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which provides funds for food products to low-income households (DCFS). Through their market initiatives, Market Umbrella has adopted SNAP dollars as a form of payment at all of their markets. The interrelationship between the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Crescent City Farmers Market demonstrates the effectiveness of governmental intervention when successfully integrated into the businesses of local retailers. Whether through implementing healthier options at existing mini marts in food deserts or by offering incentives for grocery outlets to open in neighborhoods lacking access to healthy food, Louisiana’s state government should step in to improve the health and well-being of their constituents with more urgency.
Market Umbrella already provides programs connected to the Crescent City Farmers Market that focus on addressing social and health issues, in order to “target specific agriculturally based enterprises and communities lacking access to fresh food” (Market Umbrella). They have effectively implemented the governmental Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally referred to as the food stamps program, which expands the market to accommodate those who come from food insecure households. The following programs have expanded the market to a place where social and health issues can be addressed one Creole Tomato purchase at a time.
Greaux the Good:
This program allows the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) to be used as a form of payment in the market. Market Umbrella has been dedicated to supporting their food producers in adopting SNAP and FMNP purchases. This program focuses on increasing food access within New Orleans, while engaging with shoppers in high need.
The Market Match program focuses on “[offering] incentives to vulnerable consumers to purchase the best local produce available at [Market Umbrella] markets, Top Box Foods Louisiana, River Queen Greens, and Grow Dat Youth Farm” (Market Match). First, consumers must purchase wooden market tokens, which are utilized as a means of paying for produce, with their Electronic Benefit Card. Then, Market Umbrella will match up to $60 of every dollar that is spent with the tokens, so customers registered in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have affordable access to high quality food. This program has been extended to other food markets and producers in the region because of its success.
Market Mommas Club:
The Market Mommas Club offers relief and community for “lactating parents and lactating parents-to-be who are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed and are currently eligible or are receiving Louisian Medicaid and/or WIC” (Market Mommas Club). Through support groups that intentionally focus on breastfeeding, the non-profit attempts to establish an environment of support and education that relates to child-care and nutrition. Along with the peer groups, members can procure $60 in market tokens every month when they participate in the program. The combination of market token incentives and the support of the peer group fosters the health of its members, while deepening connections between members of the New Orleans’ community.
Through these programs, the Market Umbrella organization aims to make fresh produce and food available to all communities. The various programs that incentivize using SNAP dollars to purchase food are beneficial to the “[1 in 4 Louisiana families [that] rely on SNAP to meet their monthly needs” (Fitzgerald, 2018). With the large number of families in Louisiana whose livelihood depends on utilizing SNAP benefits, the ability to utilize the farmers market as a food source is valuable in fighting against food insecurity. However, the programs or aide that Market Umbrella offers cannot fully address the issue of food insecurity in Louisiana. The issue of food insecurity is expansive and must be combatted intensively through efforts from the community, charity organizations, and the government, while altering the system that causes food deserts and insecurity to promote equitable food access.