Vietnamese Farmers' Market
New Orleans East
New Orleans, LA
Contributed by Project for Public Spaces
At 5am each Saturday, over 20 vendors set up shop in a dilapidated shopping square, spreading out produce on blankets; live ducks, rabbits and chickens wail to a background chanting of Asian pop music.
You can't get more grassroots than this. You get the feeling that the decision to set up the market was completely spontaneous, no bureaucrats involved in this piece of magic. Run in a dilapidated shopping square, the market caters almost entirely for the local Vietnamese population. At 5am each Saturday, over 20 vendors set up shop on blankets spread with produce: chilli, okra, lemon grass, snow peas, as well as bananas, papaya and figs. Beyond the courtyards are shops selling Vietnamese bakeries and imported groceries. Live ducks, rabbits and chickens wail to a background chanting of Asian pop music.
What makes this place so compelling is that the produce is grown on 40 acres of wasteland ajacent to the market. The area is beautiful, wild yet orderly, with each plot market by rickety fencing and scraps of wood. Traditional growing methods are used, epitomised by the sight of an old man pulling water from a well, with buckets of water balanced on a wooden stick across his shoulders.
History & Background
The area where the market occurs was settled by Vietnamese refugees brought here by the Catholic church in the 1970s. Plagued by violence and crime, it must have seemed a natural thing to do for the elderly (few of whom can speak any English) to find peace in 40 acres of wasteland behind the housing estate. The climate is similar to Vietnam - humid and swampy - and many of the immigrants had bought over their own seeds when they came.
The market has been since the running since the mid-'80s; in the late '90s the land was purchased by a private landlord who rents the land to the growers for $1 a year. Without any involvement from the younger generations and no legal protection, it will be interesting to see how the market develops over the years.
ECOnomics Institute at Loyola University's Twomey Center for Peace through Justice - 504-861-5898