Foodways winner: Richard McCarthy

Supporting our rich culinary heritage through innovation
Article: Erin Shaw Street

Richard McCarthy, Age 46
New Orleans, Louisiana; Crescent City Farmers Market

Richard McCarthy, executive director of the Crescent City Farmers Market, grew up in the 1970s, when big-box stores and supermarkets replaced fresh produce markets in his native New Orleans. Determined to bring farmers back to the city, he set up a place where Creole okra and mirlitons were passed from hand to hand and where urban and rural dwellers could have conversations. Now in its 16th year, the Crescent City Farmers Market makes fresh, local food available to all New Orleanians through thrice-weekly markets across the city, with an economic impact of nearly $10 million to the region.

Heroes juror John T. Edge calls the endeavor “one of the most innovative and catalytic farmers’ market efforts in the U.S.” Among Richard’s contributions is a token system that allows shoppers to exchange their currency—whether cash, credit card, or food stamps—for wooden tokens. Everyone at the market spends the same “money,” which breaks down the barrier between the haves and have-nots. The market also provides matching funds for low-income shoppers, tackling the misconception that farmers’ markets are for only the privileged. “All Southerners have a desire to reconnect with food,” says Richard. “It’s more than nourishment. Food is where we meet to build trust and community.”

Richard has also helped launch 30 similar markets across the South, based on the Crescent City model, in his mission to make fresh, healthy food accessible to all.

Runner-Up: Poppy Tooker, Age 53
New Orleans, Louisiana; Culinary Activist

Poppy Tooker works to preserve Louisiana recipes and ingredients once threatened because they’d fallen out of style. By teaching people how to make such dishes as rice calas, a beignet-like pastry, and Creole cream cheese, she’s helping reinvigorate traditional cooking. Her weekly radio show, Louisiana Eats, provides a forum for farmers, chefs, and home cooks to discuss recipes and culture. Poppy helped reopen the Crescent City Farmers Market three months after Hurricane Katrina and continues to educate the public about the safety of Gulf Coast seafood post-oil spill.

Honorable Mentions:

Ronald and Carol David, Age 67 and 66, respectively
Glade Hill, Virginia; Glade Hill Community Cannery

They teach canning to a multi-generational audience in an old schoolhouse, preserving and propagating the tradition.

Jim Gossen, Age 63
Houston, Texas; Louisiana Foods Global Seafood Source

By establishing a weekly market and working with chefs, Jim has minimized the waste of fishing-boat bycatch. Next project: rebuilding the Louisiana oyster population.

Nick Pihakis, Age 54
Birmingham, Alabama; Fatback Pig Project

Nick began Fatback to raise heritage hogs for Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Now, with John Michael Bodnar and Donald Link, he provides jobs to farmers and pastured pork to chefs.