Robert Lyons of Bob’s Veggie Patch grows 20 varieties of vegetables and fruits in Hydro-Stackers, a system of vertically stacked pots filled with a non-soil growing medium. Here, you can comfortably pluck that fresh tomato from its vine without bending over-or even dirtying your hands. Claiming that "fresh vegetables and a healthy life go hand in hand," Lyons sells to the public on weekends only, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bob’s Veggie Patch, S.R. 64 E., Myakka City. (941) 705-0909.
The year-round, Saturday morning (7 a.m. to noon) Downtown Farmers’ Market has been a Sarasota mainstay for 26 years. You’ll see a cross-section of the city, from young couples with their Labradors to seniors in sun hats perusing the ripe tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, eggplant, corn-you name it-on display at various stalls. "We’re trying to bridge the gap between the farmer and the rest of the community," says organizer John Matthew. "This is the perfect meeting place." Main Street and Lemon Avenue, Sarasota. (941) 951-2656.
Along with an abundance of in-season produce, Fruitville Groves, a family-owned farm, also features a dairy case stocked with farm-fresh cheese, milk and eggs. Inside, you’ll find shelves of products from Ohio’s Amish country, including homemade jams, jellies, hot sauces, candies, egg noodles and soaps and lotions. The produce bins outside overflow with fruits and vegetables from area farms. 7410 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. (941) 377-0896.
Founded in 1976 by Joe and Susan Christy, the Granary Natural Foods Supermarket is a Sarasota original. It was purchased by United Natural Foods several years ago but still remains an essential spot for fresh produce-most of it certified organic. Store manager Jim Fulton says they offer a creative mix of traditional fruits and vegetables, exotics and special orders. And if it’s not organic, says Fulton, "We make sure you know." 1279 Beneva Road, Sarasota. (941) 365-3700; 1930 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota. (941) 924-4754.
Families flock to Hunsader Farms every autumn for its pumpkin festival, hayrides, petting zoo and crafts barn. This old-fashioned family farm has been around since 1967 and features "u-pick" vegetables throughout the year, including green beans, black-eyed peas, okra, lima beans, broccoli, collard greens, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash. The gloriously plump Florida strawberries are ripe for the picking through mid-April-so hurry on over, y’all! 5500 C.R. 675, Bradenton. (941) 331-1212.
The future of agriculture? It’s hydroponics, according to Chester Bullock. He’s the inventor of the Hydro-Stacker we mentioned earlier, and at Hydro-Taste he grows dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables-fresh and ready to pick all year-round. Short on time? Join his "Produce Club" and your veggies will be ready when you arrive. Or bring home your own Hydro-Stacker and grow an acre’s worth of food on your patio. 7308 Verna Bethany Road, Myakka City. (941) 322-0429.
Jessica’s Organic Farm Stand is a popular place to choose from a wide selection of seasonable organic produce. Most of the produce is grown on Jessica’s Organic Farm, which has been involved in sustainable organic agriculture since 1979. The entrepreneurs behind this growing business are Bill Pischer, his wife, Pam, and their four children (one of whom is named Jessica). The stand is open year-round on Fridays (noon to 7:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). 4180 47th St., Sarasota. (941) 351-4121.
Morton’s Market‘s secret ingredient is produce manager David Routenberg, known for 23 years as Sarasota’s guru of all things fresh. Loquacious and wise, Routenberg is always up for a chat about how to prepare something from his bountiful harvest. His bins overflow with local and organic produce, vine-ripe Florida tomatoes and avocados, baby vegetables, and such exotics as hachiya persimmons, lady apples and white asparagus. 1924 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. (941) 955-9856.
The produce department at Sarasota’s Whole Foods Market is a stunning feast for the senses, with more than 230 varieties of organic produce, including seasonal, exotic and specialty products. Even better, this eco-friendly company strives to buy from regional farms and works closely with farmers to develop sustainable agriculture. And if you’re looking for ways to cook that organic Algerian eggplant, pick up The Whole Foods Market Cookbook for hundreds of recipes and tips. 1451 First St., Sarasota. (941) 955-8500.
Chris and Eva Worden and their three-year-old son, Asa, are the folks behind Worden Farm. Here they grow certified organic produce, including specialty varieties of salad greens, cooking greens, root crops, herbs and selected varieties of traditional vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, beans and broccoli. The farm’s membership program features a weekly harvest share of organic produce that can be picked up on the farm or at area distribution sites. Farm tours by appointment. Worden Farm, 34900 Bermont Road, Punta Gorda. (941) 637-4874.