This extra-chilly February may not mark strawberry picking season, but over one dozen farmers' booths will line the parking lot of First Congo church tomorrow morning with freshly plucked mushrooms, eggs, meats, breads, and kale. The year-round Cooper Young Community Farmers Market in Midtown Memphis supports and celebrates the everyday harvests and goods of local farms and shops on. You can feel the warmth of the people as soon as you turn the corner on any given Saturday morning; and you'll most likely be greeted by Caitlin Dupuigrenet, the naturally charismatic and delightful Parisian-turned-Memphian market manager. Join us in a charming Caramelized conversation, and go meet her tomorrow at the market!
What initially attracted you to the farmers market scene?
While studying English Literature and Philosophy in college, I became completely enamored with Southern literature, especially Faulkner. Meanwhile, my philosophy classes led me to search for what I thought would be the most "authentic" and "ethical" life (oh, to be a 20-year-old liberal arts student...). The summer of my senior year, I decided to travel down South (having never been down further than D.C.) and work on an organic farm. I ended up working for room and board at Downing Hollow Farm, a family owned sustainable farm in Hardin County, TN, owned by Lori and Alex Greene, two of the most generous and adventurous people I have ever met.
That summer, I met so many people in the Memphis restaurant and farming scene and made so many lasting friendships that I returned to the farm as soon as my senior year ended. That one summer farming with the Greenes changed my life forever. So when Lori, asked me to help her start the Cooper Young Community Farmers Market in 2010, I jumped at the opportunity and moved to Memphis permanently. The food and farming community in Memphis is so exciting and dedicated. I've never looked back.
Let us in on your Saturday routine. How do you pull off running a year-round market, week by week?
Every week is a mad scramble to organize that Saturday's market. I try to plan markets and events as far ahead as I can, but being a one-woman show does lend itself to last minute changes and 5 a.m. phone calls to farmers. I usually get to First Congo Church by 6 a.m. and immediately start making coffee in the church kitchen (An uncaffeinated farmer is an unhappy farmer!). Then I set up tables, chairs, tents, the fire pit etc. Volunteers usually show up around 7:30 to help set up so I can review that week's stall map with vendors. By 9 a.m., everyone is set up and ready to sell, and my favorite part of the day begins: connecting with our amazing patrons and hearing all of the latest news from everyone's farms! Human connection really is the core of what I do.
How, in your opinion, can a farmers market create community?
Community is at the heart of our market. The vendors, the patrons, the community organizations who participate in the market every week all form distinct groups while sharing so many values and concerns. We all want to be better stewards of the land; we all want to be better educated about food; we all want to support the local economy; we all want each other and the community at large to succeed. No matter how different our backgrounds are, coming together around common values fosters an incredible sense of purpose and power. We also have an ever-growing number of baby dogs, lambs and humans at market; and everyone, no matter how different, can agree that that's a good thing!
Every home cook needs...
Five recipes they can always count on. For ideas, check out the market-inspired recipes in our weekly newsletter!
Your most unforgettable restaurant experience?
I was born and raised in France; and although I have had countless amazing restaurant experiences in Memphis, I have to say the most memorable one, for me, was a recurring lunch date I had with my father at the Closerie des Lilas in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Hemingway was a regular there, and I did always feel like I was stepping into a different era every time I passed the threshold. My parents divorced when I was young, so I would only see my dad every other weekend. When I was old enough to navigate the city on my own, we started meeting at restaurants for Saturday lunch. We didn't meet at the Closerie every Saturday, but it did become a bit of a tradition. I would begin with either oysters or escargots, accompanied by a glass of muscadet, followed by table-side prepared steak tartare, my all-time favorite food. I don't remember what dad ordered, but I do remember that if we were having an especially good time, he would order his favorite baba au rhum for dessert.
What do you love most about Memphis?
I literally came here to spend a summer and never left, a testament to the amazing pull of the city. I love the small town feel and friendliness of Memphis. No matter how lofty my goals or ambitions, everything somehow always feels within reach. Want to start a farmers market? OK! Launch a crowd-sourcing campaign to better your neighborhood? Let’s do it! Go from the least bike-friendly city to one of the most improved in a year? Done! The amount of work and commitment the citizens of Memphis put into their city is truly inspiring.
How do you add sweet touches to everyday experiences (the mantra of Caramelized)?
A family cuddle session with my husband Stephen, our kids Chloe, Theo and Julien, and our coon hound Stella!
Also... Sorghum on everything.