This time last year, a tractor and two Volkswagens sat inside an open-sided barn off Old Highway 25 near the corner of Poor House Road.
Then it was hard for even the ever-optimistic Tammy Carlisle to visualize what the space has become. Shelves of locally sourced goods have now replaced the Volkswagens, and the tractor went elsewhere to make way for a checkout stand that is now logging a sale roughly every 18 minutes.
The enclosed, floored and fully renovated barn that houses the Poor House Market is where Carlisle spends much of her time these days, and it’s where, since opening in December, she has made her living. What the fully stocked store of locally sourced goods symbolizes for her, though, goes beyond sales. It’s the fulfillment of a 13-year-old dream to take her customers back to a much simpler time.
“Have you ever had an idea that is just part of who you are? One that just leads you?” Carlisle asked while sitting in a custom-made wooden chair inside the market last week. “Sometimes when you stop, get out of the fast lane and listen to your instincts, you’d be surprised what wonderful things that are in you that you can share.
“I’ve often thought about getting a sign for the front door (of the shop) that says, ‘Welcome to the slow lane.’”
‘Make it work or move’
In 2009, when Carlisle purchased 18 acres off Old Highway 25 south of Starkville where she lives and works, the road was still gravel and the seven roadside acres where she dreamed of one-day running a small corner farmstand was covered in trees.
Over the ensuing years, she cleared the land herself, gradually removing the trees with a chainsaw and ripping old wire out of the ground with pliers.
“I have burned up, lost and ruined more equipment than you can imagine,” Carlisle said, laughing.
People who drove by, even people who saw her around town, thought she was out of her mind. When she encountered that attitude, she’d remember an old standard Bible story from the book of Genesis.
“When Noah was building the ark, he let the rain do the talking,” she said.
But when it came to the skills needed to make her plan a reality, Carlisle had learned to “walk the talk” since her youth.
As the youngest of seven children born to parents who were raised in the Great Depression, her father joined the military at age 17 to serve in World War II. By the time Carlisle came along, her family had an established farm near Columbus where she, in due time, learned the ropes of gardening, tending chickens, even running heavy equipment.
“I was taught a lot about the self-sufficient lifestyle,” Carlisle said. “The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was recognizing my abilities and not just my gender.”
As a young adult, Carlisle moved to Massachusetts, attended college and worked briefly in health food stores. She worked several years as executive director for the various boards of architects and landscape architects in Massachusetts, planning events and travel for the groups.
Returning to Mississippi in 2005, she worked as an assistant to the Starkville mayor and board of aldermen, serving on the committee that founded the Starkville Community Market. Carlisle also served a stint with the Extension Service at Mississippi State University.
At each stop, she picked up something else that would prove useful to running her own market later and she couldn’t get the idea out of her head.
“Sometimes when you don’t know your purpose, follow your passion,” Carlisle said. “I either had to make it work or move.”
Down came the rain
While working jobs in town, Carlisle had also gradually started converting her land to a homestead.
She joined the Mississippi Beekeepers Association and installed several honeybee hives on her property. She had greenhouses, a garden, a fruit orchard and space where wildflowers grow.
Then in spring 2020 — using Carlisle’s Noah analogy — the rain came.
COVID-19, at one point or another, shut down businesses, disrupted the supply chain and struck fear, of both the virus and the unknown, worldwide.
Carlisle, by then a single mother, was locked down with her young son Eli for six months.
“I thought, ‘Everything I know is coming into play right now,’” she recalled. “Even though we were locked down, we didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything that wasn’t already right here on the property.”
Teaching her son, just as her father taught her, they supplied established customers with plants, produce and honey. Eli placed produce at the roadside that sold to passersby on the honor system and made enough money to buy a Nintendo Switch and put some back for savings.
Carlisle used the opportunity to accelerate her plans for a general store/market, capitalizing on the pandemic turning more people to shop local. With help from her friends and family, she started renovating the barn by summer 2021.
From July through October last year, she held an outdoor market for local vendors — ranging from meat and other food goods to hand crafts — that proved a rousing success. Those vendors are all represented in the market today.
An old-time shopping experience
Carlisle sources her products mostly from the Golden Triangle but ventures elsewhere in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida, as well.
She visits every farm that supplies her store, becoming familiar with their processes and meeting the farmers and their families.
“Know your farmer, know your food,” she said.
Most of the consumables, such as the food, Carlisle buys outright and resells. Some of the handcrafts are sold at the market on consignment.
Her store, and what it represents, is catching on.
“Some of it is curiosity,” she said. “Some of it is people wanting to shop local. But a lot of it is just that we have really good products.”
Some of the products are Carlisle’s, including much of the honey sold there, as well as some plants that find homes in local gardens. Her next personal touch, she hopes, will hearken again to a story from her unusual past, as she hopes to sell prepared Mediterranean dishes to go — hummus, tabouli, baklava and baba ganoush, to name a few.
Carlisle said she learned how to make those authentic dishes when she was in college. A group of Lebanese sittus (grandmothers) taught Carlisle in exchange for her teaching their grandchildren English.
One regular market customer is longtime friend Chris Pollan, who had heard Carlisle frequently talk about her dream for more than a decade.
“She’s persistent and determined,” Pollan said. “She offers a shopping experience reminiscent of the old days. It’s been interesting to see it all come to fruition.”
In the future, Carlisle wants to add a greenspace for customers to come, unplug and let their children run around.
“I want this to be a spot where people want to come and be a part,” she said.
Poor House Market is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.