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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Shreveport Farmers’ Market Preview


To Market, to market, to buy fresh food

Not many 20-year-old college students are hired as a Wal-Mart produce manager.

In 2005, Jonathan Wells wasn’t your typical 20-year-old college student.

He had grown up – literally – on the farm.

His family’s farm – Wells Berry Farm – is in Lindale, Texas.

“There are pictures of me out there in my baby chair, sitting around the table, while they were out there getting all the berries coming in from out in the field – grading through them, making sure they were all good,” Wells said. “I’ve been around it all my life.”

Wells’ extensive knowledge of produce – especially at a young age – impressed the person doing the hiring at the then-new Wal- Mart in Tyler. After seven years on the job, Wells returned to his family’s farm, where he is today. Wells now oversees 10 acres of blackberries and blueberries, five acres of watermelon and cantaloupe, and 8,000 peach trees.

“We have scaled back a lot. Back in the ’90s, we were picking 100,000 pounds of blackberries every other day and selling them to all the big chain stores in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Now, we just pretty much sell everything at local farmers’ markets in Shreveport, Bossier, Tyler and Lindale.”

Wells will be one of more than 75 vendors at this year’s Shreveport Farmers’ Market, which starts its summer schedule Saturday, June 3. The event, now in its 37th consecutive summer season, will run through Aug. 26, 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Festival Plaza.

“The crowds are really big,” Wells said.

“It’s one of the bigger farmers’ markets that I go to. I do one in Lindale, and I do one in Tyler. Neither of them even match the amount of people who come out.”

The farmers’ market is your chance to buy everything from produce to tamales, jellies and juices, and goat’s milk soap.

“You name it, we’ve got a lot of stuff,” said farmers’ market manager Emerie Holtzclaw.

All vendors are within 150 miles of Shreveport, coming from north Louisiana, east Texas and south Arkansas. Because the United States Department of Agriculture approves the Shreveport farmers’ market, Holtzclaw and her staff must inspect the farms that bring their goods to the market.

“We make sure that what our farmers are selling is what they are actually growing, so they’re not just going to the store and buying it and reselling it. That’s something we don’t allow here,” Holtzclaw said.

And there’s a big difference between buying at the farmers’ market and buying from a big box store.

“My stuff’s fresher,” Wells said.

“With my family selling to some of the chain stores in Dallas, sometimes our berries wouldn’t actually make it to the store until about five or six days after they were picked. Then, they would sit on the shelf three to four days. Sometimes, our stuff was 10 days to two weeks old. At the farmers’ market in Shreveport, I pick on a Thursday and even sometimes Friday morning, and I have it there on a Saturday morning.”

The Shreveport farmers’ market offers an open-air, intimate environment featuring only handmade, homemade or homegrown items.

“Every Saturday morning, you can come out, get a cup of coffee, visit with local farmers and vendors, shop and get your goods you need fo the week to make all kinds of fun stuff,” Holtzclaw said.” You can listen to good music. We will have music every weekend. We will have cooking demonstrations every weekend. We will have food row where you can enjoy breakfast, brunch or lunch. You can make a whole morning out of it and enjoy your time while you’re doing something you would normally do on a Saturday morning anyway, which is shopping for your essential needs.”

Chef Hardette Harris, with Us Up North Kitchen, will host the market’s first cooking demonstration on June 3.

Something new at this year’s market is a $10 match – in addition to the previous match of up to $20 – for those with a Louisiana Purchase (SNAP) card.

“It gives more healthy items to the consumer and puts more money in the hands of our local vendors.” Holtzclaw said. “It’s a win-win situation. It’s a huge win for us to be able to offer it. It’s a great program that we are super excited about.”

And Wells is excited about returning to the Shreveport farmers’ market, where he and his family have sold their produce for over 15 years. This year, Wells will bring blackberries, blueberries, peaches, cantaloupes and watermelon.

“You’re supporting a farmer,” Wells said of another benefit to buying at the farmers’ market. “You’re supporting a family. I have two young kids. All my money, I use for my family for the whole year. You’re supporting a farmer who is actually working year-round on their farm, instead of supporting a big box store. I’m not saying (big box stores) don’t care about you, but they don’t go the extra mile. They don’t care who you are, and I do.”

To learn more about the Shreveport Farmers’ Market, you may visit www.shreveportfarmersmarket.com.


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