Curb appeal: New market gives farmers shelf space

The Curb Market, newly opened in midtown, experiments with bringing the farmer's market to grocery shelves, offering fresh, seasonal and locally produced foods throughout the week.
“Food freaks welcome!” said Pamela Raines, General Manager of The Curb Market at 596 South Cooper. “My daughter is a carnivore; she can eat for days here. My husband and I eat completely plant-based; we can eat for days here. People are making very thoughtful choices about their food now.”

Those choices, increasingly, reflect a growing movement for local foods that are both fresh and seasonal. This means that what is on the shelves will change throughout the year, but as Rains points out, this was the way everyone shopped and ate until about the mid-1950’s. She admits that there might be a consumer learning curve involved with this, but so far the main problem since opening three weeks ago has been inventory flying off the shelves. Several vendors, including the wonderfully named Yellow Fever mustard sauce, sold out in a matter of hours.

“With our venders being local, we can get restocked usually within a day. Sometimes within hours,” said Rains. This is largely because The Curb doesn’t really work with distributors, but individual vendors who are often at the local farmer’s markets every Saturday. “Our purpose here is give shelf space to local farmers and producers working ethically and sustainably and can’t get into the big box chains.”

In some cases, The Curb will break its “100 mile” rule for local food. As an example, Rains points to some bananas and avocados that are kept on the “foreigner’s table.”

The Curb was opened by local business man Peter Schutt, who owns the 1,600 acre Winchester Farms near Dancyville, Tenn. as well as another organic farm near Whiteville. For several years he’d been sell his grass-fed and finished beef, as well as other chemical free products, to local restaurants. He had been keeping an eye out for a retail space to sell his and other local producers' goods. When the old Easy Way store on Cooper came available, Schutt purchased the building for $275,000 last August. The 2,500 sq. ft. space, located between Overton Square and Cooper-Young, has proven remarkably popular.
“People have been shopping here for 40 years. The building came with its own customer base," said Rains.

They wanted to keep what was good and comfortable about the “old Easy Way” as it’s still called, and make it fresh and new. The new space is flooded with natural light and a kitchen was installed for the grab-n-go items made in-house from local inventory.

In addition, says Rains, the name helps. “So many people come in and talk about the original ‘Curb Market’ on Cleveland, where the trucks would literally pull up to the curb and sell their products.”

Since opening, they have added new locally sourced products like soaps and household cleaners. But at its heart, The Curb is a farmer’s market. In addition to frozen prepared foods, Winchester farm sausage is made in partnership with Sweet Grass restaurant further down Cooper.

Rains is the first to admit that what is going on at The Curb is largely experimental. But it is a controlled experiment, with a tight feedback loop from the community. “Because we are doing this all local thing, there are a lot of familiar faces. People come in and they see their neighbors and their neighbor’s products. Buy local products and the money stays here. It’s not just about sustaining farmers — it’s about sustaining a neighborhood.”

Read more articles by Richard Murff.

Richard has reported from across Latin America, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Clarksdale, MS, to name a few places. He has been editor at the Nautilus Publishing and his work has appeared in The Bitter SouthernerThe American SpectatorDelta Magazine, Sail, The Daily News, Oxford Town, and others.
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