The Crescent City Farmers Market, which meets Tuesdays Uptown at 200 Broadway Street and Thursdays at the Lafitte Greenway Plaza at 500N. Norman C. Francis Parkway, has offered New Orleans fresh, locally sourced produce and prepared goods for affordable prices for 26 years. With an emphasis on community building, the Crescent City Farmers market provides a space where shoppers can support local businesses and develop personal relationships with vendors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this community-centric business model was challenged. The Crescent City Farmers Market had to think outside the box to develop strategies to continue to foster community-centric and personal relationships between local producers and consumers.
“Across the spectrum there have been disruptions,” said Angelina Harrison, Crescent City’s Director of Markets. “On March 18th of 2020 we held our last market and paused to reevaluate our organizational structure.”
To address customer concerns over safety, the market partnered with Top Box Foods to offer consumers a means of purchasing delivery boxes of locally sourced food online to limit contact.
“This was a time where traditional grocers were running out of fresh produce. Local producers, who are much more nimble than more industrial forms of food production, were better equipped to transition to handle a rapidly evolving situation like this,” said Harrison. The market’s delivery service provided much-needed fresh produce to consumers and offered local producers a source of income during the initial stages of the pandemic. As time went on, Crescent City began to offer other alternative forms of markets, including drive-through pickup and a socially distanced “modified walkup” which operate in accordance with CDC guidelines.
In addition to safety measures, Crescent City has expanded its “Market Match” program in order to make the market more accessible. The “Market Match” program provides shoppers who rely on SNAP benefits to purchase food the opportunity to double their buying abilities. “Market Match” will match every dollar purchased under SNAP. While Crescent city has always offered this program, for the COVID-19 pandemic they have removed its $20 spending cap so that consumers who utilize the program are able to make fewer trips to the market to limit their possible exposure to COVID-19.
While the community fostering aspects of the market were undoubtedly hurt by the distancing measures taken during the pandemic, the market has provided invaluable services to local producers who could continue to sell their products in spite of the closures. Honest Foods Company, a small bakery that has been attending the market for over three years, was able to capitalize on the services provided by the market.
“It was an adjustment more than anything,” said Irina Kagan of Honest Foods Company. “(We) went to just preorders for a bit, but we adjusted and, as things opened up, we were able to participate more and more.” Irina went on to praise the market’s handling of the COVID restrictions. “(Crescent City Farmers Market) has transitioned beautifully … within a month we were back in business. We were doing the drive-through markets and little by little they opened up more with modified markets.”
Though initially challenging, the adjustments made during the COVID-19 lockdowns brought new practices and business models to the market.
“Consumer behavior has shifted a lot in ways we anticipate will remain. Online grocery shopping has become commonplace, people are accustoming to the convenience,” said Angelina Harrison. “We want to make the farmers market more accessible to customers who are interested in the products, interested in the philosophy of supporting local economies, and being connected with producers, but might not have the space in their schedule to make it to the market every week.”
Many of these permanent adjustments are the result of technological adaptations that have improved the consumer experience by offering preordering services and contactless payment. In addition, the widespread adoption of the Whatsgood platform among producers has enabled local producers the opportunity to offer their products online.
The Crescent City Farmers Market provides an invaluable service in fostering relationships between local producers and consumers. As the pandemic subsides and the weather improves, the market plans to open back up and offer the same community-centered experience as before with additional services for those unable to attend weekly.