New Orleans, La. –
Clara Gerica and her family are familiar faces at the Crescent City Farmers Market, where they sell shrimp, finfish and soft shell crabs so fresh that sometimes the creatures are still moving in their ice-packed trays at her booth. Clara's husband Pete catches all of this in local waters, usually in Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. It's their livelihood, and also their way of life.
"My husband's father was in oysters, fished oysters, but he's been fishing himself since he was like 15. He just loves it. It's like it just gets in his blood and you can't get it out of him," Clara says.
This spring, however, the Gericas have been trying out a new way to sell some of their seafood, one aimed at keeping local seafood traditions healthy. They're participating in a new program, organized by the farmers market, called Crescent City Supported Fisheries.
It's similar in concept to Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, the programs where consumers pre-pay for a share of a farm's harvest.
The farmers market conceived its Crescent City Supported Fisheries, and is now testing it with the Gericas, in part as a response to the pressures on local fishing communities since the BP oil spill. The program means that shoppers essential purchase shares of the Gerica family catch up front, which they then collect each week when they visit the Thursday edition of the farmers market in Mid-City. Along with the seafood, these shares include printed recipes, information about the seafood and some intangibles as well.
"So you can come to the farmers market, you can talk to Miss Clara about where Pete's catching what's in the share, how it was harvested, how she filets the fish, how she deveins the shrimp, things like that, and you get to learn a lot more about where your food is coming from, how it's being handled and how to prepare it too," says market director Emery Van Hook.
"Now more than ever people are curious and also informed about their food," she says. "They want to know more about exactly where it's coming from, they want to know more information about the individual species, and the state of local fisheries, so you can sort of ask all of those questions at the market while you're there."
The market chose the seven weeks of Lent this year to test the program, which could return at other parts of the year, perhaps tied to specific seafood seasons. For Clara Gerica and her family, it's already proven a great way to keep close with customers and to keep those customers close to Louisiana's seafood tradition.
"You learn about their families, you learn what they like to eat, new people you get to tell them how to cook, even though I'm not a very good cook, but I give it my best shot, you know," Clara says. "It's a pleasure, it really is. When you're selling something that people really enjoy, then you enjoy selling it and that makes a pleasant situation."