Soulard Farmers Market is the oldest farmers market west of the Mississippi River. The market began as a meet-up spot for local farmers to sell and trade produce, meat, pickled vegetables, nuts, and various other disposable goods. The land these famers met up on, where Soulard Farmers Market now stands, belonged to Antoine Soulard. However, in 1803, due to increasing domestic war pressures, Napoleon Bonaparte sold Frances claims within the United States. This sale is known to Americans as the Louisiana Purchase. This purchase/sale put the French population in quite a fix.
[two_fifth padding=”10px 20px 0 10px”]Land that clearly belonged to some, came into question, and Antoine Soulard’s 122 acres was not excluded. A court battle ensued and lasted until 1836. By this time Antoine Soulard was dead and survived by his widow Julia Soulard. Julia donated the land that the Soulard Farmers Market structure now stands upon.
Not long after the dedication, the land where farmers met became an actual market structure. A building was erected and called Soulard Farmers Market. The market became, and continues to be, to a certain extent, a concrete destination for farmers to take goods to market. However, tragedy struck the market 1896. A tornado destroyed much of the building structure and it fell largely into disrepair. The current structure, designed in Italian Renaissance style of beautiful yellow clay brick was completed in 1929. The market has a highly communal structure. Shops inhabit the 1st floor, while the 2nd floor of Soulard Farmers Market Grand Hall is a gymnasium where youth can play and commune.
Today’s Soulard Farmers Market has several produce stands and shops that have been in families for several generations. The bi-laws of the market prohibit one vendor selling its business to another and so old businesses are exclusively passed from generation to generation. [/two_fifth][three_fifth_last padding=”10px 10px 0 20px”] Soulard Farmers Market has moved away from all farmers, and is now a mix of farmers and merchants. While Soulard Farmers Market has moved away from being purely a farmers market, it continues to be a place where vendors can compete to get a leg up and incubate a business. Lona’s Lil Eat began in just this fashion.
When we started Lona’s Lil Eats in 2008, the space we occupied had turned over dozens of prepared food vendors since the 1970s. Of course we did not know this until our neighbor, who had been there that long, told us. It’s a ruff life: prepping, hauling, cooking, and packing up so much. The winter turns Soulard Farmers Market into freezer, while the summer turns it into a brick oven. The first two year were a complete loss and just when we were ready to call it quits, our second spring rolled around and business took off.
The truly public essence of Soulard Farmers Markets eminates the provocative nature of the atmosphere. I’ll explain. A significant homeless population hangs out and in many cases reside at the market area. Working class St Louisans come for both the deals as well as the habit of Saturdays at the market. Wealthy people come in to drink in the nostalgic images of it all. Most of the products at the market are crap and so “buyer-beware” still applies, which while annoying is all but extinct in the modern day United States. Vendors all smile and chat with the customers giving off such a vibrant gleam, while angling to screw their vendor neighbors and shunning the homeless who possess nothing. Cheap beer still reigns king, and unintended oddly mismatched fashion still rules. It’s dirty and grimy, it’s as if the consumer-focused, sterile revolution of the 1990s never took place. Soulard Farmers Market is kind of a shit-hole, and a destination at that- a destination shit-hole- and that’s pretty cool. I can’t really think of any other destination shit-holes I’ve been to in fact. But hey, even the ruff has diamonds, and Soulard Farmers Market’s is no doubt Lona’s Lil Eats, just ask Lona![/three_fifth_last]
Come see us on Saturday!