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Guide to local farmers' markets

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GREATEST OF ALL TIME: The only reason you need to visit the Old Miakka Farmers' Market / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

GREATEST OF ALL TIME: The only reason you need to visit the Old Miakka Farmers Market / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Old Miakka Farmers Market may be a long haul from home, it may be on the small side, but what it lacks in convenience and size it more than makes up for in baby goats. The short-haired critters, bundled up in warm sweaters, prance around the small clearing next to the Old Miakka United Methodist Church, where the market's four or five vendors set up shop each Saturday morning. The goats chase one another, munch on sticks and, inevitably, attempt to snatch food from the vendors' tables.

I can't resist trying to pet them, but the animals scamper away, which is fine, because really they're just a distraction. I'm here for food — which I quickly learn involves coffee and freshly fried doughnuts in exchange for one measly dollar. A dollar. Over at the Yolkers Wilde Hatchery and Dairy Goats table, I snag some raw chèvre and ricotta — "Pet food only," of course! A bagful of locally grown organic veggies later, and I'm ready to head home for lunch.

The Old Miakka market is just a couple years old — one of several markets that have sprung up in all corners of Sarasota and Manatee counties in recent years.

When I set out to put together a comprehensive guide to all of our markets, my list just wouldn't stop growing. Whenever I would chat with a vendor, I'd learn about a market I had no idea existed. From Old Miakka and Lakewood Ranch in the east to Bradenton Beach out west, from North Port and Englewood in the south to Palmetto in the north, this place is crawling with markets that each have their own set of vendors, and their own organizations and missions.

Phillippi Farmhouse Market, for instance, is a government project. University of Florida Extension Agent Robert Kluson calls it a "test case" for changes made to Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan to encourage community gardens, farmers' markets and even small farms on county-owned lands. All the proceeds — $29,000 so far — go toward the restoration of the Phillippi property's farmhouse.

According to Fred Whitestone, the vice-president of Friends of Sarasota County Parks, which supplies volunteers to staff the market, 1,500 cars and 3,000 customers come by each Wednesday during season. Unlike other markets, like downtown, the clientele here is highly seasonal, and even short-term tourists swing by.

OLIVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING: Olives 4 You's Stephanie Brocardi at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

OLIVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING: Olives 4 You's Stephanie Brocardi at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Stephanie Brocardi, who sells hummus, salads and olives under the name Olives 4 You, says many of the Phillippi vendors are on the same market "circuit," which lets them see the markets' different clientele. She calls Phillippi shoppers more "transient" than others, perhaps because of the market's location right on 41. Downtown is a destination market, while lots of Phillippi customers just happened to pull over when they saw the signs.

That's not the case with Tammy Kessel. The seasonal resident calls herself a "regular customer" of Maggie's Seafood, which sets up at the Phillippi, Englewood, Venice and downtown markets each week. She credits the quality, consistency and customer service at Maggie's for her devotion. "Yeah, they've got my business," she says.

The Philllippi vibe is calm and relaxed, much different from the sometimes rushed and cramped feel downtown. Ted Stevens' softly strummed rockabilly wafts over the crowd, while young moms in exercise tights push high-tech strollers. Customers head back to their cars laden with bags of stuffed with fresh produce and kettle corn.

The San Marco Plaza Farmers Market out in Lakewood Ranch shares Phillippi's calm vibe, but it adds something beyond compare: lángos.

Lakewood Ranch Farmers Market (low-res)

DOUGH! Iby Faddi of Iby's Hungarian Lángos serves up her fried delights at the Lakewood Ranch Farmers Market / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

"People don't know lángos, but when they taste it — wow!" says Iby Faddi, who fries up the Hungarian discs of dough on demand. Spattered with garlic and sea salt after a couple minutes in the deep fryer, the finished product tastes like a savory elephant ear — super crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside. Indeed, wow.

The Lakewood Ranch market, which just got going last year, was the brainchild of Barb Smith, who owns the nearby 2nd Ann Rose boutique. She says the market has "the best of the best," and works with Melissa Enders and Dufour Family Farms' Vaughn Dufour to manage things. Dufour credits the "beautiful location" in San Marco Plaza for the market's "European village" style.

The Bradenton farmers' market, meanwhile, is definitely Old Florida. Vendors line downtown's Old Main Street, selling everything from collard greens and sweet onions to aquaponic watercress and smoked tilapia dip, all against the city's historic backdrop. The much-ballyhooed Riverwalk project is just a short stroll away.

"It's like a Norman Rockwell painting of a farmers' market," says Kevin Webb, who manages the market as part of his work with Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing life to downtown. In addition to the usual assortment of vendors, the market teams up with different nonprofits for special events. One involved bringing in a local chef to shop at the market and then prepare a meal on the spot using the ingredients he found.

David Hamlin of David's All-Natural Fish and Vegetables tells me his tilapia were featured in a chef demonstration recently. His aquaponic system converts tilapia waste into fertilizer for the lettuce, celery, Swiss chard and watercress, solving the "fish poop problem." The fish get no growth hormones, no antibiotics, and the vegetables need no artificial fertilizer or pesticides.

He's running way low on veggies by the time I arrive, so instead I purchase some greens from Terra Ceia's Sheppard's Farm. They're fresh, crisp, inexpensive. They may not compare to loveable little baby goats, but I guess you can't have everything.

SUNCOAST FARMERS' MARKETS


WEDNESDAY


Phillippi Farmhouse Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. October-May; Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; farmhousemarket.org.


THURSDAY


Englewood Farmer's Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. October-April; Historic Dearborn Street, 300 Dearborn St., Englewood; englewoodfarmersmarket.org.


FRIDAY


San Marco Plaza Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. year-round; San Marco Plaza, 8215 Natures Way, Lakewood Ranch; sanmarcoplaza.com.


SATURDAY


Bradenton Farmers' Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. October-May; along Old Main Street, Bradenton; realizebradenton.com.


Naturally North Port Farmers' Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. year-round; Imagine Junior High School, 2757 Sycamore St., North Port; on.fb.me/15r9pm6.


Palmetto Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. year-round; along Olde Main Street, Palmetto; palmettofarmersmarket.com.


Sarasota Farmers Market: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. year-round; along Lemon Avenue, between First Street and S. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota; sarasotafarmersmarket.org.


Venice Farmer's Market: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. year-round; along Tampa Avenue, between Nokomis and Nausau Avenues, Venice; thevenicefarmersmarket.com.


SUNDAY


Bridge Street Market: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. November-April; along Bridge Street, Bradenton Beach; bridgestreetmerchants.com.


Palma Sola Farmers Market: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. November-May; Geraldson Community Farm, 1401 99th St. N.W., Bradenton; geraldsoncommunityfarm.org.


Siesta Key Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. year-round; Siesta Village Plaza, 5124 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota; siestafarmersmarket.com.


Last modified: March 4, 2013
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