Bradenton Farmers' Market returns
To the delight of Manatee County gourmands, the Bradenton Farmers' Market reopened for the season earlier this month, giving folks a reason to head to Old Main Street rather than downtown Sarasota come Saturday morning. And while, like at most local farmers' markets, a lot of what's for sale isn't actually grown nearby, at least one vendor, perched right on the southern edge, offers top-notch local produce at low, low prices: Sheppard's Farm.
Located in Terra Ceia, in the area where I-275 arcs north into the Sunshine Skyway, Sheppard's Farm has been a family affair since the 1930s, when the grandfather of the current man in charge, Moses Sheppard, migrated from Georgia to Tampa to Ruskin and then to Manatee County. But the farm's location hasn't remained static. Sheppard says his family has farmed in a number of different areas, at least two in the last couple decades.
Sheppard grew up helping out his father on the farm. After his dad died, Sheppard retired from a job with Tropicana, where he had worked for three decades, to take over. He's been farming full-time since 1998.
While his father would haul the farm's produce to markets in Tampa and to grocery stores, most stores today will only deal with large-scale farms that can supply several locations, Sheppard says. Which means he and his brother, Roanie, who also works on the farm, are limited to selling directly to neighbors, and at markets like the one in Bradenton. "We're easily the oldest long-term vendors," he says. "None of the original people that were there, none of them are there now."
The farm concentrates on providing black-eyed peas and okra year-round — much of its neighbor business is based on a steady flow of those two items. During the cooler season, when the farmers' market runs, Sheppard says they'll plant and sell anything that grows.
Sheppard's Farm is family tradition, but Sheppard's children haven't expressed an interest in one day taking over. His kids help out whenever he asks, Sheppard says, but farming is a "choice" you have to be committed to. "It's not something you can depend on."
The Bradenton Farmers' Market runs 9 a.m.-2 p.m. every Sat. through May, along Old Main Street, just north of Manatee Avenue. For more information, visit realizebradenton.com.
Sarasota County Extension offers cottage food workshops
Curious how to start your own home food business? The University of Florida's Sarasota County Extension kicks off a two-day workshop on the topic this week.
In 2011 the Florida Legislature revised the rules for home food businesses, authorizing the direct sale of so-called "cottage foods," goods prepared in home rather than commercial kitchens. But it's not a free-for-all. The bill limits the amount of money one can make from cottage foods to $15,000 per year, sets guidelines for how the products must be labeled and more.
The extension office's workshop is intended to guide those interested in making and selling cottage foods through those regulations, and to share best practices and information about how to make a cottage food business work here in Sarasota. Some area farmers' markets, for example, still prohibit cottage foods.
The workshop runs 6-8 p.m. Wed., Oct. 30, and Wed., Nov. 6, at the Sarasota County Extension office, 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota. Registration is $15. To sign up, call 861-9900 or visit sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu.
This is the 34th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.