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Street Talk

Antique Tractors Are Coming To Town

by Mickey Howley

Every September the three state Main Street organizations of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi hold a joint “Destination Downtown” conference. Last year it was in El Dorado, Ark., just last week it was in New Iberia, La., and next year it will be in Tupelo.

These towns are chosen to host this event as they are all on the healthy recovery back from near downtown death. They have all gone through a similar set of transitions: from regional hubs of commerce, transportation, and agriculture to bypassed towns of marginal former note to resurgent and revitalized towns. It is a common story for these three towns.

In the case of New Iberia, it was founded in a location near a water source and a transportation point, right on the banks of Bayou Teche, a dormant arm of the Mississippi River and a major waterway in Cajun country. The waterborne transportation of the time (early 19th century) dictated the location.

 Changing transportation technology has altered all towns and cities; from boats to rails to roads to currently big roads (and airports). And towns like New Iberia were figuratively and literally bypassed by this present phase. Big roads seemed to have spawned metal building strip malls and cookie cutter subdivisions not only around exponentially growing large cities, but also even around small and medium size towns. And the town centers suffered. Retail moved out next to the big road.

But in New Iberia folks realized that the old town section on the bayou had something the strip malls and tract houses did not have; charm. The old houses, churches and brick commercial buildings on narrow streets on the bank of a Spanish moss draped live oak lined ever sluggishly moving bayou just had something intangible and desirable about it. New Iberia figured out, like El Dorado and Tupelo, that the old center holds the soul of the place.

Darlene Wolnik, who runs a group called Market Umbrella, was at the conference where she hosted several sessions. Market Umbrella is a group that sees open town markets as a force for positive things in a community. Darlene called it the ‘Triple Bottom Line.”  

Local markets bring a fair price for farmers and a fair price keeps them in the growing business. Market patrons have fresher, healthier, and tastier food. The tomatoes are not coming from California; the eggs are not from Iowa. The city itself benefits by having more foot traffic and having an animated and lively downtown space, keeping retail dollars not only with local farmers but with local merchants as well.

Saturday, Oct. 2 will be the last Farmers Market for the season. There will be the Farmers Market Fiesta where you can sample local dishes. And like last year it will end not with a bang, but the sound of un-muffled exhaust; the Antique Tractor Show. Come see and hear and experience the difference between a Deere and a Ford and a Massey-Ferguson and an International. If you would like to participate in the Market Fiesta, call me at 662-473-6767.

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