To Market We Go 

What does it take to start a farmer's market in downtown Memphis? A group of neighbors with lots of determination.

"We started with this idea six months ago, and right now we're in final negotiations with MATA to make Central Station's Pavilion the home of the Memphis Farmer's Market," says Sharon Leicham, vice chair of the Memphis Farmer's Market (MFM).

The market is scheduled to open on May 13th and will be open every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. until October 28th. The MFM is a nonprofit organization with an aim of helping regional farmers promote and sell their products while offering locally grown foods to the Memphis community.

"The local aspect is very important to us," Leicham says, "and we definitely like to see vendors who offer organic produce."

Local means products native to the Mid-South. The market will be able to accommodate approximately 40 vendors with room to expand. To uphold its mission, the market will give first priority to local farmers with 100 percent, certified organic produce then local farmers with conventional produce. In addition, vendors who sell homemade craft items, such as soap and jewelry, or homemade foods, such as jams, jellies, honey, baked goods, and freshly roasted coffee, will be offered space so long as the food items have been prepared, stored, and displayed in accordance with Shelby County health department regulations. Vendors can rent a space at the market for $20 per week, $60 per month, or $250 per year.

Community and consumer education is another aspect the market's organizers want to emphasize. The MFM team plans to use this opportunity to host weekly events that center around good nutrition and healthy food choices.

May 13th kicks off with a National Safe Kids Week event, then it's a different topic every week until the market closes for the winter. One Saturday in July will be devoted to diabetes awareness and a Saturday in September to cholesterol education. There will also be a pumpkin playground and fall festival in October.

"At some point, we'd like to have a year-round market, and we'd also like to be open more than one day a week," Leicham says. "But right now, we just want to get started."

The space formerly occupied by the Russian restaurant Café Samovar has found a new tenant. Tsunami owner Ben Smith -- along with partners Demitri Phillips, sous chef at Tsunami, and Thomas Boggs of Huey's -- is expanding his culinary territory to this downtown location, with a new restaurant to be called Meditrina.

"Thomas has been trying to talk me into opening another restaurant for a while. Demitri had talked to me about doing his own thing. And then this location became available," Smith explains.

Now it's down to the nitty-gritty of opening a new restaurant. The menu, which will feature Mediterranean fare, has to be planned, plus the interior has to be remodeled. Smith & Co. don't want customers feeling like "this is Café Samovar with a different menu," says Smith. They want the space to be a social gathering spot, where people share food, wine, and stories.

Phillips will be heading the kitchen as executive chef. He'll be taking Tsunami's popular small-plates menu a little further but also offering a regular menu.

"We are definitely not claiming authenticity," Smith says. "We're just taking influences from the foods of Spain, Greece, Italy, and the like and incorporating those into our menu."

The restaurant is scheduled to open for lunch only in April. Dinner service will follow a couple weeks later.

Ballet Memphis' "Connections: Food" will feature a five-course dinner prepared by Memphis chefs Karen Blockman Carrier, Erling Jensen, and Felicia Willett. New choreography by Ballet Memphis dancers will accompany each course. The event, under the direction of Dorothy Gunther Pugh, will take place on March 25th at 7 p.m. at the Bridges Center downtown.

For further info and tickets, call 737-7322, ext. 302. The price is $135 per person, $250 per couple, and $1,000 for a table of eight.

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