BestLife Flash MarketBy Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

There’s something fresh-n-fantastic happening in New Iberia.

And it happens in a flash.

Best Life Iberia FLASH Markets, two hour pop-up markets offering locally grown produce, are springing up across the parish’s west end. First in June, selling more than 254 pounds of produce. Then again in July, nearly selling out of their 389 pounds of produce in under 90 minutes. A third market is set for Aug 28 at the Iberia Community Garden Co-op site on S. Hopkins Street (4-6 p.m.). The markets are the brainchild of leaders with West End Health & Wellness, a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant-supported wellness initiative.  We spoke to Marti Harrell, Best Life Iberia initiative manager and a West End project leader, who talked about how the market idea came to life – and why it’s likely we’ll see many more FLASH Markets in the coming year.

Q:  Why rotating FLASH Markets, instead of a traditional standing farmers market?BestLife Flash Market

A: We wanted the ability to move the market to better serve our target population and allow easy access to different areas of Iberia. And this allows us to operate at different times and different days than the typical Saturday morning farmers market model.

Q: Right, because you operate from 4 to 6 pm on a weekday, usually Thursday.

A: Yes, we are targeting that afternoon drive time, when people are coming home from work. And as winter approaches, and it gets darker sooner, we may switch to 11 am to 1 pm, which is the lunch hour. And Thursday is great because people can buy for that night’s dinner or buy for the weekend.

Q: It also keeps you from competing with the area’s current Saturday farmers markets, like the Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market. So you’re giving people more options, really.

A: Right. And our farmers and other vendors have more options, too, because this way, they are free to work with us and still make it out to Delcambre or the Jeanerette Farmers Market on weekends.

Q: But if the FLASH Market rotates, how do people find out when and where it will be? Isn’t it harder to find this way?

A: No, not really. First, we’re really fortunate to have a large following on Facebook, not only on our own FLASH Market page, but also on all three of our area co-ops (Iberia Community Co-op, Sugar City Growers Co-op, Heirloom Produce Co-op). They all promote the markets on their pages. We also talk about it on our weekly Best Life Iberia radio program on KANE AM 1240, we advertise in the Daily Iberian newspaper, and we send monthly reminders to the 250 or so individuals signed up for our market voucher program (for seniors and low income Iberia west end residents).

BestLife Iberia FLASH Market

Q: Well something’s working, because the markets are drawing crowds.

A: Yes, we are consistently drawing between 150 to 200 people in just those two hours. And what we’ve found is that the people who come, come to shop, which is a little different than a lot of the farmers market visitors, who may also turn out just to socialize. This is more of a retail than social environment. Our visitors come in, shop, fill their bags, and head home.

Q: So how does the FLASH Market model work, exactly?

A:  Vendors drive in, park their trucks, pop tents, and sell for two hours. That’s it, that’s the entire commitment. It happens in a flash!

Q: How do you pick the locations?

A: We’re planning to rotate between four different locations. So far, we have permission (and permits) for three – the Iberia Community Garden Co-op site, on the south end of Hopkins Street; the First United Methodist Church Ministries Center, on the northern boundary of New Iberia’s west end; and in the parking lot of St. Francis Diner, which is in the middle of the west end district and across the street from a large elementary school. All really great access points throughout the community.

Q: And you anticipate even more locations eventually?

A: Yes, we’ll have to.  Thanks to Challenge Grant funds, we’re now doubling the size of our hydroponic gardening co-ops. The new greenhouse we’ve just added, which is 30% larger than our first one, should be operating by end of August or early September. So we’re going to have a lot more produce to offer to the community.

Q: Where else might we find the markets?

A: Oh, probably some places outside of the west end, but where our west end residents work, like outside the hospital or hotels. So the idea is they can come out after work or on a lunch break and do their shopping, right on site. In that way, we’ll be hitting our target group, plus a whole new crop of people.

Q: Will there really be enough demand in the community for all the new produce? To keep both the farmers markets and all the FLASH Markets in business?

A: Absolutely.  I believe the entire community is so very excited about these innovative, organic greenhouse hydroponic gardens because we’re on the cutting edge!  Everyone is excited to see this happening here, in our town, in our community. Our co-op gardens are even providing produce to local restaurants now, too. We’re already struggling to keep up with the demand.

Iberia FLASH Market

Q: Just shows what a difference a few thriving gardens can make in a community, right? The health impact could be amazing.

A:  Oh, yes. We always talk about what can really move the needle in a positive direction, when it comes to obesity rates and other health issues. We this can do it. This can move that needle. We’re working on it! And from our standpoint, this is not a temporary solution. Challenge grant funds really helped us take off. But the sustainability of these projects is important and we’re already setting them up to continue on their on, well into the future.

Marti Harrell is the special projects manager for the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation, BestLife Iberia and the West End Health & Wellness initiative. She is also a talk show host for KANE AM 1240 radio.