Since its soft opening in June, the Chicory Market, located at the site of the old Oxford Farmers Market, has been growing closer to its community and local farm suppliers.
“Our goal is to first and foremost give the farmers and the food makers a place to sell their goods and, as a result, bring a community together,” co-owner Kate Bishop said.
She and her husband, John Martin, took over the store from former owner Liz Stagg, who operated the business for 12 years. They returned to Bishop’s home in Mississippi from New York because they saw the need for this kind of connective food service around Lafayette County as well as the country.
According to the Mississippi Food Policy Council, the state of Mississippi is home to 41,959 farms amounting to more than 11 million acres of farmland. However, the state ranks near the top of the lists for states with the highest amount of food insecurity. Stores like the Chicory Market are working to connect Mississippi’s vast agricultural resources with its hungry population.
Bishop said she wants to help her customers put a local face on the food sold at her store. She said some farmers were initially skeptical of the new venture because she hadn’t lived in Oxford since she was little, but their relationships have grown stronger over the months.
“We’re providing them a place of business, and that feels good and healthy,” she said.
The store has brought together around 50 different food makers – including but not limited to farmers – providing accouterments like dried cranberries, yogurt-dipped pretzels and gelato, as well as fresh produce.
Often customers can even catch vendors in the store. Matt Britt of Clear Creek Produce has recently been in the store to stock watermelons, zucchini squash and sweet corn. The Mississippi State University graduate’s 17-acre farm is located off of Highway 6 on the way to Batesville and has been in his family for more than 150 years.
Britt said he’s noticed an increase in people wanting to eat healthily and locally and that it provides him an advantage as a local supplier.
“That squash was picked a few hours before it was put in here to buy, versus a tomato that comes from California that might be five or six days old and possibly rotten,” he said.
“I think the local drive these days is really helping local farmers,” he said, noting that he’s serviced the farmers market since 2008, and that about a month ago – before weather concerns – he stocked almost 90 percent of the store’s produce.
But a rough summer has been a setback for him and other farmers in the area.
“One day we were out picking watermelons, and I left my truck running, and we were at 116 degrees,” Britt said. “At high temperatures like that, plants tend to struggle.”
He said the heavy rains over the last few weeks have also caused plants like tomatoes, watermelons and peppers to absorb too much water and burst.
He said he and his staff are working hard to get a fresh crop of tomatoes in within the next two weeks and will continue to supply squash and greens through the winter.
Laurie Stirratt, who worked for the former farmers market store for three years, has helped to ease the transition between owners and said she plans to begin selling prepared foods soon. She will use inspiration from her home of New Orleans to provide gumbo and jambalaya in the fall, as well as Mediterranean meals and grain salads.
Stirratt said the farmers market has long filled a need for fresh food in Oxford and that there are more local growers now than ever before due to an increased interest in local foods.
“People like to know where their food comes from, and I think that we give an amount of customer service that you don’t get at Kroger or bigger stores,” Stirratt said.
The market also hopes to offer events with live music and food trucks later in the fall to engage with the community.
Bishop plans to install a map near the register of Chicory Market before its grand opening – highlighting the many places across the area where the foods are grown, like Yokna Bottoms, Canebrake Farms and Native Son Farms of Tupelo.
Bishop said creating relationships with farmers and customers is easier in Mississippi than in New York.
“There’s a sense of community that is more natural here that is easy to establish just because you know that you are going to see these people daily,” she said.
She said she is grateful to the many people who have volunteered their time and gone above and beyond to help the new store open and help a longtime Oxford staple grow into a new chapter.