Agri Leader

Getting farmers to local markets

Agri-CultureIn this area abundant with agriculture, you would think that getting farmers to participate in farmers markets would be a slam dunk. The problem, I’m told, is that many farmers around here don’t have pick-up trucks to back into their allotted space and unload their produce. They’re more likely to have 18-wheelers ready to take their goods to supermarket warehouses. Because central and southwestern Florida swell with so many commercial farms, it can be hard to identify ag businesses that want to participate in smaller-scale venues like farmers markets as you might envision them up north, where many farmers participate at one time. That’s why agricultural dynamo Tiffany Ferrecchia has embarked on a campaign called “Farm to Fresh Market” to encourage local farmers and ag vendors to participate in local “fresh markets.” She uses the term “fresh market” because so many vendors at markets like hers may not be ag-related.
“We want farmers to see how well their product can be sold,” says Ferrecchia. By participating in local markets, farmers boost sales and public relations — and local residents get to enjoy produce and other agricultural items like meat, eggs and milk. “It’s like going to the supermarket but you’re shopping locally,” she explains. As part of her newly launched campaign, Ferrecchia is offering farmers the chance to try one of the markets she manages free for one day. If farmers decide to return, they can get a 10x10 space for $25. The markets Ferrecchia manages are under the umbrella name Tampa Bay Markets. The markets take place on various weekend days in Seminole Heights, Hyde Park Village, Westchase Town Center, and the Shops of Wiregrass — all in the Tampa area. The markets can attract up to 1,000 attendees on a given day. The Farm to Fresh Market campaign is focusing on farmers who raise produce, poultry, beef, eggs, and dairy. Preference is given to farmers who raise meat without hormones and who grow as organically as possible without pesticides. And what do local farmers and ag vendors already participating in the markets have to say? “We do well. We sell 10 to 15 in-season items at any given time,” says Gary Parke of Parke Family HydroFarms, a hydroponic farm in Dover. Parke is part of the famous Parke strawberry family in Plant City. Parke farmed traditionally most of his life and wanted to try something different with hydroponics. He participates in a number of Ferrecchia’s markets and says he enjoys getting direct feedback about his products. As a commercial farmer, you may rarely hear what people like or dislike about your product. A customer may tell the stockboy in the supermarket, but that comment would have to go through a chain of about eight people or more to get that opinion to top management, Parke explains. Meanwhile, Antonio Casamento of Cheeselicious attends the markets to sell the artisan cheeses his company makes. Offerings include buffalo, cow and goat cheeses, many made in the style of his native Italy. (An Italian-run cheese business — have I died and gone to heaven?) Casamento says sales of his higher-end products are small to moderate, but he believes participation in the markets has been a helpful way to get his business name out to the public. Kumquat Growers of Dade City, a participant in Ferrecchia’s Wiregrass market, sees brisk interest in their fruit (kumquats are a citrus item), jams, jellies, barbecue sauce, and salsas, says Fanchone Gude. “We let people sample and give out recipes,” says Gude. “It’s been pretty successful.” For more information on the Farm to Fresh Market Campaign, visit