Buddy Miller, clad in a camouflage bucket hat that covers his wool-white hair, leans over his table, straightens his large-framed glasses and pops a pecan into a customer’s mouth. He sits back and gives a hearty, raspy laugh as the customer chomps on the salty-sweet snack Miller harvested with his own hands.
“What could be better than that?” he asks, a child-like grin covering his face.
Miller, owner of Plantation Pecan in Waterproof, La., sells his products at the Red Stick Farmers Market every Saturday in downtown Baton Rouge. He is one of more than 50 farmers who haul their locally grown products to market for customers to buy.
“To make what we do worthwhile, we have to have access to people,” Miller said. “And this market gives us the venue to achieve that.”
Miller drives three hours every Saturday to sell a variety of crops at the market, including asparagus, peaches, nectarines and, of course, his famous crowd-favored pecans. This is Miller’s 10th year selling at the market.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to not only come and shop,” Miller said. “You’re sitting across the table from the person that raised your food, so you build a relationship with that person.”
2012 marks the 15-year anniversary of the farmers market, which continues to build strong connections between local farmers and shoppers.
“A lot of people remember when there wasn’t a lot going on downtown,” said Darlene Rowland, director of development for the Red Stick Farmers Market. “But the market always brought people downtown and really created a community-building experience.”
Every Saturday, rain or shine, this tight-knit community of residents and farmers buy and sell a variety of local products.
“So many people come religiously every week,” Rowland said. “It’s really a place where it’s more than just buying your vegetables and fruits; you make friends.”
Shoppers can also visit the Main Street Market, which is open six days a week and is located at the center of the farmers market in the Galvez Parking Garage. This indoor market gives space to vendors, such as GoYaYa’s Crepery, which offers its crowd-pleasing Nutella-stuffed crepes. Visitors can also enjoy the Fresh From the Market cooking show every Saturday, where local chefs demonstrate recipes featuring seasonal ingredients.
“We have so many diehard shoppers that come,” Rowland said. “They’re here before the bell rings every Saturday. They go inside and have breakfast. We also have some different coffee groups that meet every Saturday and have coffee and breakfast together, and then come out and shop.”
The Baton Rouge Arts Market, which occurs in conjunction with the farmers market every first Saturday of the month, allows artists to sell their creations to the public. All three of the markets bring a mixture of creativity downtown, adding vibrant colors and people to the otherwise concrete jungle.
“It just creates an environment where people come downtown every Saturday, and there’s always something going on,” Rowland said. “It’s been said that it’s the best cocktail party in town, without the cocktails.”
Big River Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance is the parent association that organizes the Red Stick Farmers Market and the Main Street Market. Its mission is to build a strong, healthy local food system so that farmers, like Miller, can have a venue to sell their products.
“For many of these farmers, if they weren’t able to come here and sell at the market and sell direct, instead of competing with wholesalers, they wouldn’t be able to stay on their farm and continue farming,” Rowland said.
BREADA is also the Louisiana regional coordinator for Buy Fresh Buy Local, a foods campaign that highlights the importance of supporting Louisiana farms and keeping food dollars circulating in the state.
“This is a pure market, meaning that everybody here has to raise everything that they sell,” Miller said. “So you’re assured that all your money stays local.”
Regular farmers market shopper Jessica Walther, of Baton Rouge, said she buys local because it’s important for her to know where her food is coming from.
“I know whenever I shop at the market I’m supporting the local economy,” Walther said. “And you get to ask the farmers questions about the food you’re buying. You can’t beat that.”
While funding the local economy is a central aspect of purchasing local goods, the nutritional component of the foods is also a beneficial factor.
“Everything is generally picked within 24 hours before coming to the market,” Rowland said. “So you’re getting the highest nutritional content of vegetables you can find anywhere in Baton Rouge.”
Miller said the combination of local and fresh creates a better source of food than the grocery store.
“People are going to find a wide variety at this market,” Miller said. “So it’s a win-win in nutrition, in freshness and in supporting local business.”
Any visitor to the farmers market can find an array of local products that includes anything from meats to homemade soaps, and everything in between.
“You can find goat meat, guineas, plants, local honey – the list goes on,” Rowland said. “There’s a lot of amazing things here that you can’t really find at the grocery store on any Saturday morning.”
Shoppers like Walther enjoy the one-stop-shop experience created by the market, where customers can buy a large portion of food.
“I buy eggs, kale, oranges, some meats and seafood,” Walther said. “The variety and freshness are the best you can find.”
In addition to the Saturday market, farmers set up seasonally on Tuesdays at the Unitarian Church, located at 8470 Goodwood Blvd., and Thursdays at 7248 Perkins Road, weather permitting.
“Thursdays you’ll probably find between 12 and 20 farmers,” Rowland said. “It’s still a good mix and variety of items, but you may not see everything you see on Saturday. On Tuesdays, it’s a little bit smaller.”
While farmers like Miller continue to sell their local products at the Red Stick Farmers Market, shoppers continue to participate in the benefits of buying local and fresh, and reciprocal relationships form between the two.
“The market helps you build friendships,” Miller said. “And there’s a mutual trust in that there’s safety in what you eat, and there’s nutrition in what you eat. So, really, what could be better?”
Check out this clip of Darlene Rowland, director of development for the Red Stick Farmers Market, as she talks more about BREADA.
A compilation of photos from the Red Stick Farmers Market on Saturday, March 10 in downtown Baton Rouge.