By Makayla Steede
John Martin stands behind the counter of Chicory Market. Tall, thin and wearing black-framed glasses and an easy smile, he pours lemonade for customers, loads fresh, organic produce into brown paper bags and Chicory Market totes and chats with the employees and customers.
This routine has been a large part of Martin’s life over the past two years since he and Kate Bishop, his wife and co-owner of Chicory Market, bought the store.
They purchased the market, formerly known as Farmer’s Market, from their friend Liz Stagg who announced in October 2016 that she was closing the store after 12 years of business.
When they heard of the store’s closing, Bishop and Martin decided to move from their home in New York to Bishop’s hometown of Oxford to open Chicory Market because they did not want to see Oxford lose a business that they saw as vital to the community.
“This space has been a food space for many years,” Martin said. “We’re trying to preserve something that has been a unique space for people to gather and get fresh food.”
However, it was not merely their wish to preserve the location of Chicory Market as a healthy food market for the community that drew Martin and Bishop into the fresh food-selling business.
That initial interest was planted and grown in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
Martin and Bishop met in his home state of North Carolina where Bishop, who has a degree in education, was doing literacy consulting while Martin worked as a freelance writer.
Bishop and Martin fell in love, got married, and eventually moved to the Delta, where Bishop began teaching and Martin began writing for a local paper.
Neither of them expected that their five years of living in the Delta would spark an interest that would grow into a passion and lead them, an educator and a writer, to owning a store that specialized in selling local, organic food.
“It’s rural,” Martin said. “You see cotton, corn and soybeans growing, but none of that is raised for human consumption. So, what interested us is that it’s one of the most fertile places on Earth for agriculture, yet it’s also a food desert where the population, a lot of them, are low-income people who don’t have access to fresh local food.”
With this newfound passion, Martin and Bishop began attending farmer’s markets and volunteering at community markets even as they moved to the northeast.
Years later, they have turned their volunteer work into a business.
“Our volunteering turned into a vocation turned into a career track turned into a business,” Martin said.
Now, it has been two years since Martin and Bishop bought the business from Stagg, and they have spent a lot of time cultivating a welcoming atmosphere.
Surrounding the doors of the outside of Chicory Market are an array of pumpkins, large and small in varying shades of orange, signaling the fall season.
The inside of the market is small, but it contains a large variety of items. There are bags of organic shredded coconut and cocoa powder, grass-fed locally sourced meat, fresh, local produce, organic quinoa and organic mung beans.
There are small jars of lavender and pink Himalayan salt, elongated glass tubes containing vanilla beans and bottles of witch hazel face treatments. The air coming from the small kitchen smells of cheddar and bacon chive scones, freshly brewed coffee and morning muffins.
According to Martin, about 80% of products sold at Chicory Market are from local sources. Approximately 100 vendors bring their products to sell at the market, including Oxford businesses like Bottletree Bakery and Heartbreak Coffee.
It is this sense of community the market provides that Martin loves.
“We have amazing customers who support the store every day,” Martin said. “They have such positive things to say about it, and it feels good. It’s also amazing to work with our staff who are all very interested in food.”
Although owning a fresh food store was never part of his original plan, Martin is happy with what he and Bishop have built together, and he believes that part of what makes the market unique is the investment the community has in it.
“Chicory Market is a place in Oxford where everybody can come to build a community around food,” Martin said. “It’s also a continuation of what makes Oxford special, which is the smaller businesses that have been here, that have begun here. Some of them haven’t lasted, but they’ve always kind of sustained Oxford as this kind of funky cultural place with its own identity.”