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Rienzi Market // Connecting Food and Community

by Andetrie Vicks

Rienzi Market is more than just a place to buy fresh produce, it’s a place that gives back — the local bounty — to the community.

“There is something special about going to the market and buying fresh food that has been grown by members of the community you live in,” says Kimber Ratcliff, the Rienzi Market coordinator.

Located behind the Thibodaux Civic Center on Rienzi Drive Extension at the St. Francis Vegetable Garden, the market got its start in 2015 as part of the St. Francis Vegetable Garden’s mission to educate and give the community access to fresh, local foods. The market originally was open for eight weeks in the spring and fall at peak growing seasons, but vendors and the community wanted more. And as of this spring, the market is now open year round from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, making it convenient for the public to shop for items after work and/or school.

Depending on the growing season, the market features citrus, eggs, mushrooms, sprouts, carrots, lettuce, shallots, kale, Swiss chard, honey, chicken, crabs, vegetable plants (for the planter working on their own garden), jams, jellies, pickles, all grown and produced by the farmers themselves. Coming in a few weeks are fresh caught, local crawfish, crabs and shrimp. There is even an Alaskan native who now lives in Houma, who fishes in Alaska and then brings wild Alaskan salmon to the market.

“All your grocery shopping can be done in one spot and it is more affordable,” Ratcliff says.

There is always a crowd of community members at the market buying their produce and meats fresh from the growers/producers. No matter the weather the shoppers still show up because as Ratcliff says, “they value what our farmers can produce.”

Many farmers develop relationships with the community members, even the children. Some of them sit on the trucks with the farmers talking to them while their parents shop, and everyone is invited to walk through the garden to see what’s growing. The setting is an open field with each vendor showcasing their wares on either a table or the back of their truck. Being out in the open field, there’s a sense of openness and freedom that’s separates it drastically from a regular trip to the grocery store.

There is no selection process for the farmers/producers. The only requirement is that the farmers grow their own crops, or fishermen catch their own seafood and they are welcome to come and sell their goods at the market. There is no requirement to grow using any particular method or soil, either. Farmers can use whatever growing method works best for them including organic, natural (meaning they don’t use any chemicals, not certified organic), greenhouse, hydroponic, and conventional. Consumers are welcome to talk to the farmers about their growing practices and the products they have for sale.

For more information on the vendors and their goods go to the market’s website at http://rienzimarket.com/.

And, a Ratcliff says, the market will remain open as long as the vendors show up to sell their products. It’s a way of letting the community know that there are local farmers who need local support in order to remain in the farming business. So stop by, have a chat and buy some produce!

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