Agri Leader

Enjoying Florida’s farm bounty in the summer

In Florida, our busiest growing season contrasts with other states. Instead of enjoying an abundance of produce in the summer, that’s the time when we try to escape the heat.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy outdoor markets or farms for the next couple of months. Although some farms and farm markets close down between June and August, others continue year round.

Take, for example, the Tampa Bay Markets, an umbrella group for five fresh-air markets, with only one of them closing in the summer, said manager Tiffany Ferrecchia. The Wiregrass, North Tampa, Hyde Park, and Seminole Heights markets remain open in the summer, while the Dunedin market runs through June and then reopens in November. Held once or twice a month depending on their location, Tampa Bay Markets feature as many as 100 vendors, including farm vendors from around the state.

If you’re looking a little further south, the St. Petersburg Saturday Market continues through the summer but will move from the Al Lang Stadium parking lot to nearby (and shadier) Williams Park starting this Saturday through August 30.

The Downtown Farmers Curb Market in Lakeland takes place on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open all year except in August.

Two other large farmers markets that stay open all year include the Orlando Farmers Market, held on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lake Eola Park; and the Sarasota Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, open on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

At all of these markets, you’ll find a mix of local foods, crafts, food trucks, plenty of entertainment, and even treats for the family dog. I’ve even seen some markets that offer yoga classes — presumably for humans, not for the dogs. Don’t limit your summer market visits to my list here. Check online and ask friends, as I’m finding new markets cropping up all the time around the state.

Ferrecchia of Tampa Bay Markets said customers continue to turn out even in summer’s dog days. “Between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., we get the most traffic,” she said.

She encourages people to visit markets earlier in the day so you can enjoy what they have to offer without feeling assaulted by the heat.

Another option for your local food fix would be a visit to a farm or farm stand that stays open year-round. One example is Hydro Harvest Farms, a hydroponic farm in Ruskin. Its weekly newsletter reports that lettuce, Swiss chard, jalapeños, tomatoes, and herbs are currently available for picking and that they’ve recently planted eggplant, arugula, summer squash and potatoes.

There’s nothing stopping farms from even holding events in the warmer months. Dakin Dairy Farm in Myakka City will hold a Dairy Day this Saturday in honor of National Dairy Month. It will feature waterslides, a Farm Fun Zone, local music, and — I can’t make this stuff up — an Extreme Grilled Cheese Experience. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there will be swamp cabbage, frog legs and gator bites.

Farm tours are not typically held at Dakin in the summer due to the heat, although its café and country store remain open. That’s yet another point to consider with Florida farms. They may not have the same quantity of produce in the summer as they do year-round, but you can still stop by for honey, jellies, and perhaps locally sourced eggs or milk.

Finally, another way to support local agriculture this time of year is through community gardens. During a recent visit to picturesque Anna Maria Island, I checked on the popular Edible Community Gardens, which are vegetable boxes sponsored by local merchants on Pine Avenue. The items grown in the boxes are available for picking, so I loaded up on a few greens for smoothies and salads.