By Susan Marquez
There are people who see what needs to be done in the world and then decide to act. John Martin and Kate Bishop are two such doers, both interested in food from a policy point of view.
“We are interested in health and nutrition,” says Martin. The couple lived in the Mississippi Delta – Greenwood, where Martin worked for the newspaper and Indianola, where Bishop taught school – before moving to the northeast. Martin ended up in the arts and nonprofit world while Bishop earned her literacy specialty degree and she trained other teachers, but Mississippi lured them back.
“We wanted to get back to the South,” says Martin. “Kate is from Oxford, and we had a friend who ran the Farmer’s Market. He talked us into taking it over.” Burlin Hollowell ran a produce stand out of the building – then an old service station – in the early 1990s. He sold vegetables that he and his friends raised and exotic produce that distributors had trucked in. When Frank and Liz Stagg took over, they expanded the grocery offerings, continued tapping the local food movement, and began selling foods that appealed to Oxford’s growing immigrant communities. People soon learned that the Farmer’s Market was a hub for quality produce, and it was a place that welcomed all.
In 2017, Martin and Bishop renovated the store and changed the name to Chicory Market. “We are proud that our store has been a food space in Oxford for over 30 years,” says Martin. Martin and Bishop have made the space their own and have connected with a new generation of local farmers and producers.
Growing up in Oxford, Bishop was raised in a community connected by food, and recalls eating watermelons and pimiento cheese from the old James Food Center. Martin and Bishop “feel strongly about creating a special place that preserves and grows the spirit of Oxford as a place that nurtures creativity and welcomes newcomers and curiosity seekers.” The market serves people from all walks of life. “This is a place where all feel welcomed. Here we are, five years later and we feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility. People are more interested than ever in eating local.”
With up to 75 local providers, Chicory Market not only provides fresh, locally sourced food to their customers, but also supports local growers. The benefits to all are apparent. “We are in one of the most fertile areas in the country,” states Martin, “but Mississippi still has issues with obesity and diabetes. Having ready access to healthy foods can make a huge difference. It can even make a difference financially.”
During the pandemic when national supply chains were falling apart, Chicory Market was able to source locally. “Even with our most recent inflation, a lot of local producers have been able to circumvent those forces,” Martin says. “Their prices have remained stable, and people are eating better. I think people are seeing the value and sustainability of buying locally sourced food.”
The store has a grand mission: to support the local food network by working with farmers and other local providers to source quality ingredients while improving access to healthy, local food for people of all income levels and lifestyles. They also aim to build a community around food involving people of all means, colors, creed and backgrounds. “We are fortunate that Oxford is still small enough to have a store like this. We also have the University here, which gives us a cultural perspective,” says Martin.
In addition to locally sourced produce, proteins and delicacies, Chicory Market offers fresh seafood. “We are one of a very few places in Oxford that sells fresh seafood,” says Bishop. “Three days a week we get a delivery of fresh gulf shrimp, salmon and some other gulf fish.”
Chicory Market now also offers prepared foods for sale. “Seven days a week, we have everything from traditional chicken salad to sides and entrees using seasonal produce,” says Martin. “That allows us to purchase even more from local farmers, and to avoid food waste by using produce before it goes bad.” The market also makes casseroles, soups and sandwiches. “During football season, we do a lot of tailgate catering, and for Thanksgiving we do a lot of sides. Then we’ll crank up our holiday menu.” The newest addition to the market is sushi. “We have a sushi chef who comes in three days a week.”
There is an outdoor seating area where people can dine on-site, and Martin says they are planning an expansion that will provide a larger place for the community to gather outdoors. For more information on Chicory Market, visit chicorymarket.com.