Local farmers' markets have been the subject of much debate over the last few months, with numerous column inches devoted to exploring the strange policy of farmers' markets limiting the number of, you know, farmers who can sell their goods, as well as pushback and counter-proposals from markets with no such ceilings. Well, now the pundits have one more market to debate: the Central Sarasota Farmer's Market, which sets up in the Sarasota County Technical Institute parking lot every Saturday morning, year-round.
"We just were of the opinion that Sarasota had the capacity and the need really for more farmers' markets," says Todd Underhill, the president of the nonprofit that launched the market earlier this year. The market is open almost the exact same hours as the downtown market. As popular as the Main and Lemon market is, it's still only serving a fraction of the county's population, Underhill says. Residents who don't live near the city center or simply don't like having to hunt for a parking spot now have a Saturday morning alternative.
The market is starting small, with just 15 vendors, but there's room to grow. According to Underhill, the site has enough space for 70 booths. Underhill, along with fellow managers Tim Brown and Mary Arndt, researched other markets and determined that slow and steady growth beats immediate expansion. There's no set timeframe for reaching capacity. Vendors so far include Brown's Grove, which mixes its own citrus and crops with resold items, Greens on the Gro, a hydroponic farm, Arndt's natural candle company, Blissful Essence, and more. Underhill is the president of the board of directors of Florida West Coast RC&D, which operates Geraldson Community Farm—he'd like to see Geraldson come to the new market at some point, too.
The vendor handbook describes the market as "producer focused," with the goal of improving "access to fresh foods for all of the surrounding communities." But that doesn't mean there's a strict requirement that a certain percentage of a vendor's goods be raised or created locally.
"It's a case-by-case basis," Underhill says, when asked about the market's rules for local production. "What we're looking for is people who are honestly farmers, who are not trying to just fulfill a requirement to get into the market." The application process is "not formula-based as much as it is interview-based." He's heard secondhand stories about vendors at other markets who claim they grow their own goods, but are in fact just reselling produce from elsewhere. It's a situation Underhill wants to avoid. "We want people who are sincere growers," he says.
The Central Sarasota Farmer's Market is open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. each Saturday at Sarasota County Technical Institute, 4748 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota. For more information, visit centralsarasotafarmersmarket.com.
This is the 43rd 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.