The Pearl Farmers Market this Saturday will feature the familiar farmers, vendors and a cornucopia of locally grown produce, meats and eggs, freshly baked breads, and artisanal food products. Live music, outdoor yoga, and a parade of people, small children, and dogs will add to the village atmosphere and experience.
For the close-knit family of farmers, vendors, chefs and Pearl employees, however, Saturday’s market will be missing something. Actually, it will be missing someone. For the first time since the Pearl Farmers Market was founded in 2009, Market Manager Tatum Evans will not be part of the mix. Instead, Evans and her ever-present companion, Milo, an Australian Shepherd, arrived Friday afternoon in her hometown of New London, Wisconsin, where she is moving to care for her parents.
“Milo, her faithful dog, was just about as well-known as Tatum around the farmers market,” joked Shelley Grieshaber, the Pearl’s culinary director.
In a road trip message to friends, Evan sent along a photo of Milo riding shotgun in the U-Haul truck, and freshly picked wildflowers adorning the truck’s console.
“I am going back to my parents, back to the exact house I grew up in,” Evans, 37, said as she neared the end of a three-day road trip north from San Antonio. “At this stage I am going to just be present and soak it all in, back in my home state as an adult, with food and farmers markets my focus.”
Her grandparents’ dairy farm, where her father grew up and Evans spent time as a child, has been sold, but she expects to connect to the land and area food scene in other ways.
“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, I suppose that’s the goal, that’s what I’ve been working toward,” Evans said.
Evan’s parents were regular winter visitors to San Antonio and the Pearl Farmers Market. Returning to them and her roots in Wisconsin now also means leaving behind family here.
“The Market and the people there, the chefs, the vendors, the farmers, for me, they were my family in San Antonio,” Evans said. “I lived at Pearl, and the Pearl let me live my passion as my profession. If my parents were closer, I’d still be there.”
An emotional farewell for Evans was held at Cured last Saturday after the close of the farmers market. A groaning board of tasty dishes prepared by Chef Steve McHugh of Cured and Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria was noticeably heavy on grilled vegetables, a nod to Evans, who is a vegetarian. Area farmers, vendors, Pearl managers and people from the many shops and restaurants crowded into the restaurant’s back room for an afternoon of hugs, laughs, tears and heartfelt words of friendship.
One of the people who spoke was Robert Sohn, a self-described “recovering attorney” and longtime consultant for Silver Ventures, the Pearl’s owner. Sohn recalled how he recruited Evans in 2008 to start up the Pearl Farmers Market. At the time, Evans was living and working on a Jamaican farm owned by a Nature Conservancy executive in Washington, D.C. Evans, archeologist with a degree from Franklin and Marshall College, had worked after graduation with the Conservancy, excavating Marshall’s Pen, an early 18th century coffee plantation.
“I interviewed more than 30 people, never could find the right person,” Sohn said.
Before Evans’ return to Jamaica to work on a modern-day farm there, Hurricane Katrina had swept Evans from her work at the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans to Austin. There she found work with the Sustainable Food Center and the Texas Organic Farmers and Growers Association. She had moved to Jamaica by the time Sohn and others at the Pearl began spending time with people associated With Austin’s progressive food community. A Brenham farmer named Brad Stufflebeam suggested Sohn call Evans and offer her the job.
Sohn and Evans spoke via Skype while she was visiting friends in Denver.
“I knew right away from that one call that Tatum was the one,” Sohn said at the farewell party. “I was anxious to find someone with core values committed to this concept and she was the one.“
Actually, it took them about six months,” Evans said later, laughing. “They were still wondering if a farmers market was what they wanted to bring to the property. It’s all about timing. We jumped at the opportunity to come to San Antonio.”
“The value she brought in her commitment to local, healthy, nutritional food was contagious,” Sohn said. “She created a sense of warmth and passion that was exceptional, and she had a joy about her that was exceptional. That joy had a ripple effect throughout the Pearl and community that revolved around it.”
Passion is a word on the tongue of everyone who is asked about their experience working with Evans.
“Tatum is so passionate about what she does, and she had a very clear vision of what Pearl Farmers Market should be in order to be a true farmers market, that is, a growers market with no retail allowed,” said Shelley Grieshaber, the Pearl’s culinary director. “Any vendor had to sell only products they grew or made themselves. She believed that at least 50% of the market should be fresh produce. A lot of markets are dominated by craft goods and prepared foods, but Tatum fought to keep it a true growers market with thoughtfully chosen vendors. People here support one another rather than compete with one another.”
At times that adherence to standards alienated sellers who were not qualified, and some complained that the Farmers Market Board, which was made up of farmers, vendors and Pearl employees, was overly restrictive in its rules, but the result was the city’s first sustaining farmers market in contemporary times. Smaller markets have come and gone, but none ever came close to creating the community that now gathers at the Pearl on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“When we started six years ago, growers and producers didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in San Antonio,” Grieshaber. “If they had a choice, they’d choose Austin every time. What Tatum accomplished is making San Antonio a real market. We get calls all the time now from people in Austin who want to be part of our market.”
Testimonials to Evans came from a number of others at Cured last Saturday. Chef Johnny Hernandez talked about testing his Mexico City street food concept first at the Pearl Farmers Market, where the positive customer response gave him and the Pearl team confidence to open La Gloria there on Cinco de Mayo, 2010. Since then, Hernandez has expanded here, into Houston and now, Las Vegas, with multiple restaurant concepts. It all began at the Pearl Farmers Market.
Hernandez said that Evans helped create a community that is such a part of San Antonio it’s hard to imagine the city without it.
“The Pearl Farmers Market is so important for San Antonio, it’s just so important what has happened here,” Hernandez said in his tribute to Evans. “The farmers market was your baby, and it inspired me and lot of other entrepreneurs. Your work is going to live on here forever.”
Peggy Scott and Cora Lamar, both pillars in the farmer and vendor community and active as board officers, both praised Evans as one of their own.
“Thank you for your integrity and your outstanding leadership, and above all, thank you for being a special friend to all of us, ” Scott said. “We love you.”
Featured photo: Market Manager Tatum Evans, Chef Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria and Pearl Culinary Director Shelley Grieshaber at Evans’ farewell party at Cured. Photo by Robert Rivard
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