Agri Leader

Some fresh-air markets brave summer’s heat

Agri-CultureOne fun option for summer in Florida is to find a way to safely lodge your head inside your air-conditioning unit for cool relief. I’ve got a better option for you. Although a number of area farmers and fresh-air markets shut down for the summer, there are other markets that brave the famous humidity. The markets may look a little different in the summer, but the goal is the same — to help vendors sell their products and let consumers buy fresh and local produce and food items, as well as plants and crafts. For example, the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market in Lakeland stays open year-round on Saturdays except for the dog days of August, said Becky Abel, Lakeland Downtown Development Authority coordinator. Because the growing season changes in Florida in the summer, some ag vendors bring different items. One example is Malabar spinach, which is native to Laos and Cambodia but grows beautifully in Florida in the summer, said Abel. The vendor mix also changes in the summer as vendors who may go to other markets the rest of the year come to Lakeland, Abel said. Despite the heat, it gives the market more traction in the summer as the vendor mix increases.
Over at the St. Petersburg Saturday Market in downtown St. Pete, the vendor mix changes as some might take a vacation, said market co-founder and manager Gail Eggeman. The Saturday market also has some vendors who opt out in the summer because of the heat. Take for instance the pizza vendor, whose oven gets too hot and who will return in the fall. However, this summer will welcome the addition of a tropical fruit vendor and some other new ag vendors, including an organic aquaponics farm, a chicken farm, and a goat cheese vendor, said Eggeman. Summer doesn’t have to mean a drop in business for the vendors or markets. “Egg layers don’t stop in the summer, and the goats still need to be milked,” said Eggeman. To minimize the effects of the heat, the large St. Petersburg Saturday Market moves in June through August four blocks from its usual location to Williams Park, where it’s held under an oak canopy. Local seafood, plants, herbs, and watermelon are among the summer features at the Sarasota Farmers Market held on Saturdays, in addition to some other produce items that may be from outside the area, said manager Phil Pagano. The market managers I spoke with said they’re always looking for more farmers in the summer as well as year-round. Market managers also notice a change in clientele during the summer. “I find more locals in the summer,” said Pagano. “Traffic does drop off a bit.” That said, the market managers I interviewed said the decline in traffic isn’t as extreme as it used to be, perhaps due to an increased interest in buying fresh and local. Plus, the markets are bringing in live music and events to keep customers coming year-round. This makes the markets more of a destination. And keep in mind, these are, for the most part, not small markets—60 to 80 vendors (or more) at a time is not unusual for some of the markets I’m profiling. You can also plan your time wisely when you attend the markets, said Tiffany Ferrechia, who manages several fresh-air markets for Tampa Bay Markets. Come in the morning to avoid the heat. And don’t let the TV’s scary weather reports keep you away. “If there’s rain, we usually don’t get it and when we do, it’s just a passing shower,” says Ferrechia. Ferrechia also manages a newer nighttime market held in Tampa’s Ybor City. Called the Ybor Twilight Market, it takes place every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. A nighttime market could be another way to get fresh produce, grab a bite to eat, and avoid summer’s midday heat.