November 18, 2009
Lee, Collier, Charlotte county farmers markets bloom with produce
by drew sterwald email@example.com
Emily White clutched a bouquet of yellow roses in one hand and a bag of potatoes and bell peppers in the other. She’d just made the rounds at the Chamber of Commerce farmers market in downtown Cape Coral. With friends Marianne Masterson and Joann Hasselbeck, she drives every week from Sanibel to shop the aisles of produce, fresh seafood and bakery goods at the market. “It’s less expensive than the store, and it’s fresh,” she said. “We come every Saturday and then go out for breakfast. We make a day of it.” Weekly farmers markets like the Cape’s are multiplying like mushrooms. Coconut Point in Estero launched a new one last week. After a test run last spring, Sanibel’s market is celebrating its first full season.
Turf wars are even erupting. Two markets in Bonita Springs are feuding over competing on the same day, and insiders at more than one market claim managers try to poach better vendors. All this over fresh veggies. These open-air markets can feel like traveling fairs. Vendors drive from one market to another like gypsies, selling their wares in tents. Musicians strum guitars and sing. Shoppers stroll with dogs on leashes. When high season kicks in, about 7,000 people shop at Cape’s Saturday market, according to manager Claudia St. Onge.
Most come for the produce, which may be grown locally or in such Florida farm strongholds as Immokalee, Plant City and Ruskin. “Those guys are our ‘anchor stores,’” St. Onge said. “Produce really carries the market.” Produce also is the backbone of the almost 20-year-old Bonita Springs Lions Club’s farmers market/flea market at The Promenade, said manager John Elliff. “The biggest draw is fresh vegetables and fruit,” he said.
Shoppers at farmers markets in Southwest Florida now see only the season’s first offerings — the early bloomers. Growers will have greater quantity and diversity as they get deeper into the season. A tour of markets last weekend turned up interesting food findings:
• Kumquats, white chocolate bread and fried cheese curds (Cape).
• Dried carambola stars, locally smoked pepper bacon and pretty pink salad turnips (North Naples).
• Gourmet cheese, pulled pork barbecue and hot peppers in shades of red, gold, purple and green (Alliance for the Arts, Fort Myers).
At the Alliance’s GreenMarket, Jennifer Rogers of Inyoni Organics in Naples sold arugula, bok choy, red-leaf lettuce, mustard and collard greens under the generous shade of a sprawling poinciana. Greens cost $2 a bunch; squash and cucumbers were $1 apiece or three for $2. A month from now, she should have onions, carrots and beans, too. Planting just started in September. “You never really know what you’re going to have from week to week,” Rogers said. That frustrates some shoppers, especially during fallow summer months, according to Santiago De Choch. A native and organic landscaper, he oversees the GreenMarket, visiting farms to ensure vendors use sustainable practices or practice organic methods.
De Choch also educates consumers about the seasonality of crops and the benefits of eating food that hasn’t traveled far from the field. As soon as a vegetable is picked, it begins to lose nutrients, moisture and flavor. The less time spent on a truck or shelf, the better. Buying locally also supports the hometown economy and the future of farming. “We’re trying to focus on local food,” De Choch said. “We want to stay small and support local farmers and growers.” The Egg Lady vendor, for instance, had flown the coop Saturday. Her “girls” weren’t laying, De Choch said. “We’d rather not have eggs than go to a supermarket for them,” he said. “That’s what sets us apart.”
Weekly farmers markets
These are some of the weekly farmers markets in Southwest Florida; it is not comprehensive and does not include single-vendor markets open daily. Many markets are open seasonally. Wednesdays • Worden Farm Greenmarket: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. January through March at Fishermen’s Village, off Marion Avenue, Punta Gorda. • Bonita Springs: Locally grown produce, fresh seafood, potted orchids, cut flowers, potted plants, Florida citrus and much more. 7 a.m.-1 p.m. 27300 Old 41 Road, south of Riverside Park. Thursdays • Downtown Fort Myers: Fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, local seafood, plants, palms, fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and doggie treats are available. 7 a.m.-2 p.m. at Centennial Park under the Caloosahatchee Bridge. 321-7098. • Coconut Point, Estero: Fruits, vegetables, baked goods, fresh fish, plants and flowers, jams and chutneys, local honey. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the parking lot adjacent to Panera Bread. 249-9480. Saturdays • Alliance for the Arts’ GreenMarket: Fresh vegetables — most locally grown and some organic — as well as fresh fish, natural salsas and chutneys, locally produced honey, bakery goods, native plants, gourmet cheese, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. 939-2787. • Bonita Springs: Fresh cut flowers, folk art, collectibles, fresh local produce, fresh off the boat seafood, local artists, baked goods and crafts. 7 a.m. to noon at The Promenade Shoppes at the northwest corner U.S. 41 and Bonita Bay Boulevard. Sponsored by the Lion’s Club, the market has also just expanded to Wednesdays. • Cape Coral: Fresh fruits and vegetables, Gulf seafood, baked goods, native plants and trees, Wisconsin cheeses, fresh roasted nuts and more. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. October through May at Club Square off S.E. 47th Terrace and S.E. 10th Place. 549-6900. • North Naples Green Market: Fresh local produce, organic fruits and vegetables, herbs and plants, gourmet breads and pastries, fresh flowers, seafood, meats, tropical fruit jams and salsas, local honey, personal chef creations and a unique selection of upscale artisan items. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Collection at Vanderbilt, corner of Vanderbilt Beach Road and Airport Pulling Road. 249-9480. • Third Street Farmer’s Market: Fruits, vegetables, breads, pastas, sauces, cakes, pies and other pastries, cheeses, fresh crab, and prepared foods, flowers, plants, soaps, shell mirrors and frames, woven coconut frond hats and baskets, dog treats and accessories. 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. behind Tommy Bahama in the Neapolitan parking lot between Third Street South and Gordon Drive. Saturdays and Sundays • Pine Island Tropical Fruit Market: Tropical fruit, plants, organic vegetables and greens. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday (also 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays June-September). Stringfellow Road at Ficus Tree Lane, Bokeelia. Sundays • Sanibel Island Farmers Market: More than 30 vendors will have local fruits and vegetables, flowers, plants, seafood, bakery items, cheeses, jams, nuts, pasta, dog cookies and other products from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Tahitian Gardens, 1975 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. 691-9249 or 218-1055.