It’s Saturday morning, and it seems like half of Sarasota is streaming through downtown’s Farmers Market, a 31-year-old institution that stretches out for blocks from the intersection of Lemon Avenue and Main Street. The scene is noisy and cheerful. Tables are laden with colorful fruits and vegetables, herbs, fresh flowers, jam, warm loaves of bread, fresh pasta, cheese, meats and fish. Handmade clothing hangs from stalls, jewelers display glittering wares and musicians create a lively soundtrack. People wait in line for crêpes, strudel and hot dogs, and the smell of fresh-roasted coffee fills the air. Children run underfoot, dogs wag their tails and sniff each other, and strangers discuss how they’ll cook the bounty that fills their bags.
Shopping at the downtown farmers’ market, Sarasota’s oldest and largest, is just one of the ways locals are satisfying their ever-growing appetite for fresh and locally produced food—and a desire to connect with and learn from those who produce it. All over the country, farmers’ markets are on the rise (the USDA counts 5,000, and new ones are sprouting every day), as are specialty food producers. Here in sunny, fertile, Southwest Florida, locovores seem as common as orange trees. Chefs report that customers are asking for regional flavors and dishes; small farms are proliferating; and sales of
Earthboxes and other home-growing supplies are brisk. And the crowds keep growing at Sarasota County’s six major outdoor markets—and at all sorts of smaller markets and seasonal stands as well.
Let’s start our tour of fresh and local Sarasota with a look at three of the most popular markets.
The Sarasota Farmers Market covers five downtown blocks and devotes 6,000 square feet to 70-some vendors. Michelle Manna, her husband, Dan McNicol, and their Australian shepherd, Roxie, come to the market almost every Saturday. Dan picks up a cup of freshly roasted coffee at Java Dawg, and they head for Strudel’s Bakery for fresh scones. "Then Dan gets in line at Maggie’s Seafood, where he’ll load up on fresh salmon and swordfish and scallops," says Michelle. "Their fish is the freshest we’ve ever tasted." While Dan chooses the fish, Manna and Roxie head for the various organic produce stands, stopping to greet the dozens of familiar faces (and doggie derrières) they encounter as they wind their way through the busy market. "It’s just such a perfect way to begin the weekend," says Manna.
Don’t miss: Morning Sun Farm, owned by Peter Burkard, an organic grower and beekeeper, who has been at the forefront of the local and organic food movement for three decades. Pick up a copy of his book, The Real Dirt, and check out his micro greens, herbs and local honey. Strawberry enthusiasts should visit Bayside Farms, the next best thing to Strawberry Fields. Although uncertified, their luscious berries are grown using organic practices. My Mother’s Garden offers culinary herbs, salad greens, edible flowers—and you can even order grass-fed beef, raised on their certified organic farm. And check out Ambo Foods’ pure omega 3 oil and their nifty "Omega Cookies," which are not only delicious but also good for your heart and brain.
The Phillippi Farmhouse Market is held every Wednesday at Phillippi Estate Park, where 60 scenic acres overlook Phillippi Creek. Take time to visit the historic Edson Keith Mansion on the property, or stake out a picnic table to dine on some of the food you buy. This market includes live music; depending on the day, you might hear rock, jazz, acoustic or reggae and steel drum.
Master gardener and enthusiastic foodie Alan Marlor has been coming here since Day One (he also goes to the downtown market every Saturday). "There’s something for everyone here," he says.
"I especially love that D & B Nursery offers unusual citrus trees you can take home and plant in your own yard." His other best bets include doughnuts from Dutch Boy Donuts ("absolutely the best in town"), savory crêpes from Roverta Crazy Crepes ("Try the mushroom, cheese and baby spinach with tomato garlic sauce crêpe"), and orchids from Florida Suncoast Orchids ("Owner Jim Roberts really knows his orchids")."People come for lunch, stay to listen to the music, and pick up something for dinner," says Marlor. "I love the entire experience."
Don’t miss: Dufour Family Farms boasts more than 20 varieties of herbs. Owners—and brothers—Vaughn and Dean Dufour (aka "the herb guys") promise medicinal herbs soon. Representatives from the University of Florida/IFAS Sarasota County Extension will teach you to grow almost anything. From January through April, they host free educational classes in composting, home gardens, rain barrel, butterfly gardening and more.
Siesta Farmers Market, in the heart of Siesta Village, feels like a street party, with live entertainment and shoppers in flip-flops, even bathing suits. Vendors offer raw foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, home-baked pastries and breads, fresh-cut flowers, specialty cheeses, pastas, coffees, soaps, jellies and seafood. The market started several years ago as all-organic; that’s no longer true, but there’s still an emphasis on organic produce and products.
Don’t miss: The Yum Yum Tree features a bounty of regionally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Their tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries are big hits. Walt’s Fish Market is the go-to place for fish caught by local fishermen, killer mullet and other seafood spreads, fresh stone crab (in season) and even alligator and frogs’ legs. Grab a strong cup of java at Local Coffee & Tea or visit Green Tea Imports for some of the best green tea you’ll find in the region. Sarasota Candle Company sells locally handcrafted candles, and Ashjoi offers all-natural soaps made in Sarasota. The homemade pasta from Peperonata Pasta is a favorite of local foodies.
According to Tracy Freeman, publisher and editor of Edible Sarasota magazine, there’s a simple explanation for the popularity of these and other outdoor markets in our region.
"When you buy from local growers, you know where your food comes from and you can ask farmers how they grow it," says Freeman. "If you care about good food, you care about the people who grow it, raise it and supply it. You care about making that human connection."
There’s another way to make that connection—buying directly from the farms themselves. Here’s a few to get you started.
On their idyllic, 40-acre King Family Farm and Market in Manatee County, Shelby and Ben King raise a thriving bounty of organic crops, including heirloom tomatoes, blueberries, citrus, squash, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, herbs, salad greens and kale.
Along with their three children, the Kings share their land with a contented crew of free-range chickens, cows, sheep and horses.
The Kings’ heirloom tomatoes are legendary among local chefs and foodies. "We started with 56 varieties but narrowed it down to 20," says Shelby. "We grow them the way God intended. They might look gnarly, but they’re sweeter than any hybrid you’ll ever taste."
The Kings sell what they raise at their market, which sits at the end of a long road shaded by a canopy of trees leading up to their farm. Their heirloom tomatoes are top sellers, but you’ll also find an array of salad greens and peppers, broccoli, leeks, fennel, and even edible flowers. Shelby recently added homemade soaps, art by local artists, milk products from Dakin Dairy Farm, orange juice from Mixon’s Fruit Farms, potatoes from Jones Potato Farm and bread from the Bavarian Bakery.
"We don’t grow it all, but it’s all local," says Shelby. "That’s the name of the game."
Half of the Kings’ goods are sold directly to regional restaurants, food co-ops and buying clubs; the other half is retail. Shelby says business is growing almost as fast as they can grow the food.
What’s driving this demand? "Our fruits and vegetables taste better," she says. "Plus, people get a kick out of seeing where their food comes from." Open Tuesday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. King Family Farm and Market, 4630 60th St. E., Bradenton; (941) 773-1624.
Just off Desoto Road in Sarasota, bumping shoulders with suburban sprawl and a golf course, you’ll find Jessica’s Stand and its plentiful selection of certified organic produce, fruits and herbs.
This flourishing outdoor market is part of Bill and Pam Pischer’s five-acre farm, where, depending on the season, rows of chard, salad greens, kale, green beans, beets, cucumbers and peppers thrive beneath the searing Florida sun. For several hours on Fridays and Saturdays, Jessica’s Stand, named after one of the Pischers’ daughters, offers customers the opportunity to taste what’s growing on the farm, along with selections of organic offerings by other growers from around the state and country. Pischer, who started the enterprise 30 years ago, was one of the first farmers in the area to grow—and sell—certified organic produce. His reputation is evident in the nearly 1,000 customers who shop here every week. He also sells to regional restaurants.
For Pischer, being close to the earth is more than a personal motto—it’s the key to psychological health. "Humans evolved with a symbiosis with the land and the source of our food," he says. "When we lose that, we lose connection with our true humanity." Open Fridays, noon to 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Jessica’s Stand, 4180 47th St., Sarasota; (941) 993-2064. www.jessicasorganicfarm.com
Sarasotans have been carbo-loading at Yoder’s Amish Restaurant in the Pinecraft neighborhood for 30-something years. But life’s not all peanut butter pie—you’ve got to eat your vegetables, too. Recognizing this, Yoder’s opened up a produce market in 2009. Yoder’s Produce Market is packed with seasonal produce, mostly from around the region. The main area houses heaping tables of locally grown vine-ripe tomatoes, luscious strawberries, hardy citrus and various varieties of onions and potatoes. The more delicate greens hang out in a climate-controlled area. (Here, spinach, leeks, salad greens, kale and collard greens are the cool kids.) The market also offers two refrigerators of cheeses (surprisingly modestly priced), bulk beans and nuts, baked goods (including bread from the Bavarian Bakery) and hundreds of Amish-produced jams, jellies and sauces. Bring extra bags. Once you’re here, it’s hard to stop shopping. Yoder’s Produce Market, 3404 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota; (941) 955-7771. www.yodersrestaurant.com.
Deb and Sam Blount grow about 50 different kinds of herbs, including medicinal ones, on their six-acre4 Bees Herb Farm in east Sarasota County. As its name implies, they also sell raw honey, provided by beekeeping friends whose bees pollinate in local citrus groves. Deb, who recently purchased her own hives (she’ll have to wait about a year for her first harvest), infuses some of the honey she sells with her own herbs. She also creates homemade salves, lip balm and soaps from her herbs and the beeswax. If you’d like to make your own soap, she offers classes.
About 30 people a week find their way to the Blounts’ farm. "We like to keep it small," says Deb. "Our emphasis is to teach people what to do with herbs, particularly medicinal herbs."
The Blounts established their farm in 1991 as a wholesale operation offering a wider line of herbs and produce to area stores
and restaurants. But after the "no-name storm" of 1993 blasted their greenhouses, the Blounts changed their business model to retail—and deliberately downsized.
"It’s not a big business, but it’s a good life," Deb says. "We live a plain country life on what we grow and raise on our farm. I can’t think of a life I’d like more." Open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 4 Bees Herb Farm, 16371 Jomar Road, Sarasota; (941) 322-2446; 4beesherbfarm.com.
Antonio and Rosa Fiorelli are the proud founders of Rosa Fiorelli Winery, one of a handful of wineries and vineyards in Florida. Grapes hang from rows of vines, neatly arranged in a grid of trellises across their 10-acre vineyard. The grapes are a mix of muscadine, imported from California, and Blanc du Bois, a Florida-friendly hybrid. The vintages the Fiorellis create from these grapes, including white and red muscadine dessert wines and a semi-sweet muscadine blush, have won a number of awards.
They produce and sell about 20,000 bottles a year, mostly to visitors to the winery and at Mixon’s Fruit Farm and area wine shops and restaurants.
Although it’s a major operation today, the Fiorellis started small 25 years ago. Antonio had enjoyed harvesting grapes in Sicily as a child and gambled he could do it here.
"We purchased 10 acres of land, but we didn’t want to grow what everybody else was growing," he says. "We didn’t see a grape growing anywhere in Florida, and thought, ‘Why not?’"
Friends and family had a host of reasons. Florida was too flat, too sandy, and its climate was too unpredictable. Nevertheless, with help from the Florida Grape Growing Association, University of Florida, and Florida A&M University, he and Rosa learned about growing grapes and got to work. They opened the winery to the public in 1998.
They proved it could be done in Florida. But it’s never been easy.
"Florida has big swings between dry spells and heavy rain," says Antonio. "The threat of fungus is here all year-round." Fiorelli installed sprinklers to compensate for dry spells and a retention pond to deal with gully washers. That doesn’t mean he can ever let his guard down. "Grapes are like a fussy baby," he says. "We have to watch them all the time."
He holds up a bottle of his Southern Red Reserve—a 2009 vintage. "When a wine connoisseur says he loves your wine, that’s the reward," he says. "The customers will come if you offer the best. They’ll hear it through the grapevine."
Tours of the vineyard and winemaking process include lunch and a wine tasting. Prices range from $16.70 to $27 per person. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Rosa Fiorelli Winery, 4250 County Road 675 E., Bradenton; (941) 322-0976; fiorelliwinery.com.
Former glassmaker Vincent Dessberg couldn’t find land to farm, so he put his farm on the 3,000-square-foot roof of his former glassmaking business. I Grow My Own Veggies is the name of his new operation, and business is definitely blossoming. Using a vertical hydroponic grow system, Dessberg grows a healthy yield of arugula, basil, broccoli, beans, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, kale, mezzuna, peppers and tomatoes. He sells what he grows at the downtown Sarasota Farmers
Market on Saturdays, but you can also buy on-site, 3-6 p.m. on Fridays. 2035 Cornell St., Sarasota; (941) 284-3344; igrowmyownveggies.com.
Dakin Dairy Farms is not only one of Florida’s few remaining family-owned dairy farms, it’s also a farm that practices environmentally sustainable farming. Dakin cows are grass-fed and the manure is used to make compost, which is then sold. Husband-and-wife owners Jerry and Karen Dakin are happy to lead tours; bring the kids and pick up some of their hormone-free, farm-fresh milk bottled on-site. It’s a taste of heaven—and you know exactly where it comes from. 30771 Betts Road, Myakka City; (941) 322-2802; dakindairyfarms.com.
Mixon Fruit Farms is a 50-acre complex of fruit groves, a 14,000-square-foot gift shop, and a wildlife refuge. This is the place to procure locally grown citrus, wine from Bradenton’s Rosa Fiorelli vineyards, and a plethora of house-made jams and jellies. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 2712 26th Ave. E, Bradenton; (941) 748-5829; mixon.com.
One of the area’s biggest family farms, Hunsader Farms boasts 1,000 acres of seasonal crops. You can taste the fruit of their labors at their on-site market, housed within a charming red barn that Old MacDonald would love. There’s a cornucopia of seasonal vegetables and homemade honey, jams, jellies and other delectables. During "u-pick" season, you can get down and dirty and harvest your own tomatoes and veggies. Open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from mid-September through mid-June. 5100 County Road 675 E, Bradenton; (941) 322-2168; hunsaderfarms.com.
Worden Farm is an 85-acre complex in Punta Gorda, with greenhouses the length of airport terminals and a small fleet of trucks, tractors and farming equipment. Chris and Eva Worden, the husband-and-wife proprietors, both hold Ph.Ds. Their children, Asa, eight, and Grant, four, are almost as involved in daily operations as their parents.
The Wordens bought the land, a former orange grove, in 2003 and transformed it into one of the leading certified organic farms in the state. They now grow more than 50 different varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers there.
There is no market on-site. Worden Farm’s offerings are available at area farmers’ markets, including the Sarasota Farmers Market. You can also become a farm member. Members get free tours and discounts on workshops, and during peak season, they can pick up a weekly "harvest share" at designated locations.
The Wordens are big on spreading the good news about good food. They offer on-site culinary and farm workshops, chef’s events, farm tours and farm feasts—even the occasional yoga session. There’s also a season-long apprenticeship program.
"Organic farming is our passion," says Eva. "We do it because we love it, because of the lifestyle it affords us and what we can contribute to our local community. Good food is a source of sustenance, meaning and joy. That’s what our farm provides. We wouldn’t trade it for anything." Worden Farm, 34900 County Road 74, Punta Gorda; (941) 637-4874; wordenfarm.com
Community Farmers’ Markets
Friday Farmers Market on Tuttle
125 S. Tuttle Ave., Sarasota
Season: Fridays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; year-round
Contact: Dave Drover (239) 287-0890
Newtown Open Air Market
Location: Fredd "Glossie" Atkins Park
2700 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota,
Season: Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; year-round
Contact: Che Barnett (941) 358-7860
Phillippi FarmHouse Market
5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Season: Every Wednesday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; November through April
Contact: Priscilla Brown, Phillippi Estate Park Office, (941) 316-1309, Tim Brown, (941) 322-2835 or Robert Kluson (941) 232-3090
Sarasota Farmers Market
Location: Lemon Avenue and Main Street, Sarasota,
Season: Saturdays, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.; year-round
Contact: Phil Pagano
Siesta Key Farmers Market
Location: 5124 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Village, Sarasota
Season: Every Sunday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; year-round
Contact: Jason Mellica
Venice Downtown Farmers Market
Location: Centennial Park parking lot on the corner of Tampa and Nokomis avenues, Venice
Season: Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon; year-round
Contact: Nancy Trascik (941) 468-5104
Can’t get to the farm or to the farmers’ markets?
The Suncoast Food Alliance distributes locally grown produce to clients in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties. Info: (941) 284-3384; suncoastfoodalliance.com
Global Organic Specialty Source delivers certified organic produce from more than 160 farms in the United States and 20 other countries to clients throughout Southwest Florida. Info: (941) 358-6555; globalorganics.ws/.
SunCoast Organics distributes certified organic produce, eggs, juices and oils to clients in Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties. Info: (941) 358-6555; mysuncoastorganics.com
Fertilizing an up-and-coming organic crop; opposite, Shelby and Ben King sell their
produce and a small-farm philosophy among free-roaming goats at their farm’s family market.
Do you have a favorite source of fresh local food—or tips on growing your own? Become a fan of Sarasota Magazine on Facebook and share your ideas.
Local Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad
Robert Graham, the new executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, says fresh heirloom tomatoes add exceptional flavor to this refreshing salad.
Ingredients (serves 4 )
2 assorted heirloom tomatoes
1 loaf St. Armands Bakery sun dried tomato foccacia bread
1 bunch basil torn into pieces
¼ cup capers
½ cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ red onion, julienned
3/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Thinly cut 8 slices of bread and toast. Cut the remaining bread into 1 by 1-inch squares and let dry overnight. Emulsify olive oil and vinegar. Toss all of the ingredients except the bread slices with the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange a small amount of the salad in a bowl and top with one slice of bread. Repeat. Garnish top of salad with some basil and enjoy.
Libby’s House Made Pickles
Chef Francis Casciato of Libby’s Café + Bar uses local cucumbers to make these quick and easy pickles.
Seedless cucumber, 1 each, sliced into ¼-inch discs
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
½ tablespoon turmeric
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper
Place the sliced cucumber in a shallow, flat, straight-sided baking dish. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mix over the cucumbers. Lay a plate on top of the cucumbers to keep them submerged. Cover the baking dish and refrigerate 24 hours. Drain the pickling solution from the cucumbers.
Find more great restaurants and recipes in the Dining section of our site!