By Barton Seaver
The first Saturday of the month, down on the waterfront in Delcambre, Louisiana, finds this quiet stretch of water buzzing with the activity of a farmers’ market in full swing. For this farmers’ market is a little different from what we are typically familiar with. Alongside the corn, mirliton and okra vendors, the hot sauce man and the preserves lady, there’s another draw, which brings people in from as far away as Alabama. Shrimp boats, such as the FB Lil’ Man tie up to the dock here with a line of eager patrons, giant wheelie coolers in tow, camped out waiting for their arrival.
After a series of devastating storms to this area, and its waterfront, were completely destroyed. As displaced residents began to make their way back to their communities they found industry gone, the infrastructure of their working waterfront destroyed and jobs gone with. Through the vision of community members, it was decided that this waterfront would not simply be restored, but that it would be rebuilt as the center of a community, a cultural and economic hub around which to build the future of this community. Typically, shrimp boats stay out at sea for several days on end, freezing their catch to be later sold to processing houses producing peeled product for a commodity market. Part of the vision in restoring this community was to give its residents access to the products of the sustainable fisheries that made the community possible. Shrimpers and fishermen and crabbers were all encouraged to come to this market and sell directly to their neighbors. And boy did it work out well. By the November market, off that dock had been sold over 350 thousand pounds of shrimp directly to the community. The fishermen got the best price possible for their product. Customers got the best product available on market anywhere. People were filling their coolers 80, 100, 150 pounds at a time, going home and reviving great family traditions, such as pickling shrimp or hosting neighborhood shrimp and crab boils. As much as this was an economic gain for the fishermen, it kept all of that money directly in the community. And it served to strengthen the bond that Louisianans have with their seafood industry. When seafood is a mystery product from an unknown origin without a story, without connection, it loses its value to us as part of our culture. In creating this market, an example has been set as to how fishermen, facing great pressure from cheap commodity imports can be rewarded with the true value of their labor and a community can see that sustainability is not just about the fish in the ocean, but that dinner itself becomes an act through which we nourish our bodies and sustain our communities at the same time.