I’ve just returned from the opening day of the new farmers’ market in South Memphis. And other than the fact that I’m in need of a shower from standing in the heat (it just feels hotter than 95°), seeing the great turnout at a first day event has really made my week.
If you don’t live in the area or don’t shop farmers’ markets, you might not care about today’s event. But you should care.
For all that the newspapers and other media talk, talk, talk about healthcare, obesity, diabetes and other maladies of our society, I just don’t hear the singing from the rooftops that one easy answer is to make sure everyone has access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. But the folks in South Memphis have taken a significant step to ensuring that those who want fresh food can easily get it. In an area without a lot of food choices, now there is a choice.
And that is something to celebrate.
Oh sure, there are plenty of convenience stores in South Memphis. But imagine if your only choices were convenience store food, fast food, or a long bus or car ride to get to a decent grocery store. It condemns people to make the least evil of a bad assortment of choices. And that’s not right.
Now, I live downtown and I frequently hear people complain that the two-mile trek to Miss Cordelia’s is just too far to go to a grocery. Gosh, what would those downtowners do if they didn’t have access to a car, had to sit on a bus with bags of fresh vegetables wilting on the hour-long bus ride, or could only make it to the store once a month? Plain and simple, we take access to good food for granted. And that’s not right either.
It’s no easy task to start a farmers’ market. Even with permission from the property owner, the permitting process is lengthy and expensive (the special use permit alone is $500) so it’s not like a few farmers can just show up on a corner and call it a market. Getting the word out, convincing farmers to try a new market, making sure everyone has their permits and a good assortment of offerings — it takes time, volunteer-power and cash. So kudos to everyone who had a hand in it — I don’t know all the people involved, but I saw so many faces I know today — Renee Frazier from Healthy Memphis Common Table, Dr. Kenneth Robinson from the Health Department, Ken Reardon from the University of Memphis, Jeffrey Higgs from LeMoyne Owen College / Soulsville CDC, and Curtis Thomas from The Works CDC. And I met new friends today, people who were happy and excited that something cool was going on in their town.
That’s the attitude we should all take. So let’s get back to why you should care that there’s a new farmers’ market in South Memphis.
It’s good for the individual residents. Hundreds of people, from all walks of life, loaded up today on purple-hull peas, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, blueberries, melons and all the other summertime offerings. In case you’re not reading between the lines — the shoppers picked up fresh food. Food that was probably picked today, loaded with nutrients, void of sugar, fat and all the additives that are in processed food. No matter how it was later cooked, this fresh food has got to be better than what’s being served at the local fast food restaurant. It doesn’t solve every healthcare problem, but it’s a great start. Pay now for fresh food or pay later in healthcare costs. Take your pick.
It’s good for the community. A vacant lot (the market is located at the corner of Mississippi and S Parkway East) has been transformed into a vibrant community gem, even if it’s just one day per week. A gorgeous mural of fruits and vegetables covers the wall of the building and 11 vendors had first-class arrays of all the summertime fare you could want. Neighbors chatted. Friends hugged hello. Kids waved from passing cars. People stopped to see what was going on and then parked so they could shop. Everyone wiped the sweat from their brow, but smiled anyway. This is what a community event is supposed to look like.
It’s good for the farmers. Not everything gets ripe on Friday. Fruits and vegetables need to be harvested almost daily. Another market is another opportunity for our local farmers — who are the key to our food system — to have a sustainable, profitable business.
It’s good for Memphis as a whole. This is a very, very good thing that has happened here today (and will happen each week for the rest of the season). The organizers and residents should be proud of their new market, but every darn person in Memphis should also be proud. To reiterate a previous point — something cool is happening in our town. We’ve got another farmers’ market. It’s another step in the right direction, a positive, communities are stepping up.
Way to go Memphis!
If you don’t recognize how small steps lead to big accomplishments, if you can’t see the big picture, or if you don’t see the positive in this, then you probably still don’t care that there’s a new market in South Memphis, and all of my cheerleading and praise isn’t going to change your mind. That’s really too bad. This is a great example of good change and overcoming obstacles all for a common good. Everyone deserves access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. And today, South Memphis took a step toward making sure that that happens. If you can’t bring yourself to care, I hope you can at least be thankful and appreciative for the things you have access to. And for those of you who do care, thank you. You are the people who are going to help change the already great city of Memphis for the better, with your support and your good attitude.
A little bit of caring can move mountains…and start a farmers’ market.