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St Louis’ North City Farmers’ Market By Miranda Duschack
It’s a picture perfect Saturday morning in St Louis—blue sky, sunny and warm—an ideal day to explore the North City Farmers’ Market located just one mile from downtown in the Old North St Louis neighborhood. Every Saturday from early June to mid-October the refurbished Crown Plaza at 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue (across from the famous Crown Candy Kitchen) is transformed. Children chatter while strolling adults shop the vendor’s stalls. A small crowd gathers to watch Chef Ivy lead a cooking demonstration with local eggs and fresh herbs. Neighbors greet each other. The market hours are from 9 am until noon on Saturdays. “We work hard to create a positive community space,” said North City Farmers’ Market Master Cassandra Howard. She is optimistic about the market’s fifth sea- son. “This is still a small market, but it is growing. This year we have 14 vendors, up from 10 in 2010. Most of our vendors, such as the 13th Street Community Garden, New Roots Urban Farm and W.M. Farm sell produce but we also have two meat vendors (Whetstone Farms and Villarreal Family Farm) and two bakeries, Black Bear and Angel Baked Cookies. And also this year we have brewed coffee for sale at La Mancha Café.”
This market provides a good venue for backyard and community gardeners to sell their produce. The average weekly attendance of 150 people wouldn’t support many full-time farmers, but to attract them the market has devised a clever system. Shelley Meyer of Whetstone Farm delivers her frozen meat to the Old North Grocery Cooperative earlier in the week. Community volunteers staff her Saturday mar- ket booth. Meyer then returns to collect the unsold product and money. This is a creative solution for a smaller market to provide the variety of products the customers want.
This farmers’ market is a sign of renewal for Old North St. Louis. Like many urban areas, Old North experienced significant depopulation throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Business and grocery stores closed making healthy, affordable food difficult to find. The entire neighborhood suffered.
But Old North St. Louis is on the upswing. In recent years, residents have joined forces with the Old North Restoration Group, a non- profit organization, to improve the situation. The results are dra- matic. During the past five years they have established a farmers’ market, a food cooperative and a community garden. All three work in unison to provide fresh, healthy food to the neighborhood resi- dents. The market provides a limited number of free ‘vouchers-as- cash’ to the clients of a local food pantry. In addition, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), debit cards and cash are all accepted. For more information about the market and special event Vegetapalooza on Saturday, August 6, 2011, visit their web site at http://northcityfarmersmarket.blogspot.com/.