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Hollygrove Market: A Volunteer's Experience

By Charlie Crosby

Most weekends, I volunteer at the Hollygrove Farmer’s Market.  And each time I volunteer, I depart with a deep feeling of satisfaction.  Often, I wonder where this satisfaction comes from – perhaps from helping an organization whose mission (to support local farmers) I believe in, but perhaps from somewhere else.  Perhaps the enjoyment of the market is rooted in the spirit of the place.

To get to the market, I drive down Carrollton Avenue and take a left on Olive Street.  I park alongside the former Carrollton Boosters, where I played baseball growing up, and I step outside my car.

Right by the front gate to the Hollygrove Market and Farm, a sturdy man stands next to his truck.  He sells fresh-caught shrimp from Venice and greets me.  Past him, along the walkway leading to the market, a couple of vendors line up selling Southern treats, such as iced coffee and sweet potato pie. The vendors welcome arriving customers and almost sing and bob with contentment as they sell their food and drink.  Behind them is a small expanse of garden with orderly plots sprouting greens.  I’m bombarded by food before I reach the door.

I walk into the market’s side entrance and put on an apron as I make my way to the market floor.  Inside Hollygrove Market, seasonal, local produce, dairy and meats line the walls and fill the room.  I position myself behind a long line of wooden bins, which make up the “box line.”  Customers can fill up bags or boxes with all 12 or so items from this line for $25.

Standing behind the bins, I greet customers as they arrive and refill items that begin to run low.  On busy days, I run between the back cooler, which stores most of the produce, and the line constantly refilling bins. . . . We need more collard greens? OK. . . . I arrive back at the box line. We need more beets? . . . More sweet potatoes. . . .

Typically, the line settles to a reasonable, steady flow, and my day eases.  I listen to the jam rock music that pulses from the stereo behind me, and I make myself an aromatic cup of coffee brewed with locally roasted beans.

Before I leave the market, I fill up my own bag from the box line. I feel a growing warmth as I look at the produce and recognize that I will soon be enjoying the same ingredients that some of the city’s top restaurants, such as Maurepas and Patois, purchase from the market.  Baby carrots with their long heads of hair still attached. They are beautifully orange like candy. Beets with their purple-veined greens still attached are angrily purple and look like bombs. And navel oranges, and LA sweets, and cherry tomatoes, and curly kale, and Cajun rice, and etc.

At the end of my day, after saying goodbye to the market staff, the vendors and the shrimp man, I walk away from the market and to my car.  Satisfaction builds.  I, like so many of the markets volunteers and customers, look ahead to the kitchen.  But I also look behind my shoulder at a place that is, as Frank Davis would say, “naturally N’awlins.”