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Farmers Market opens Sunday

By Staff | Sep 30, 2015

Local Roots LLC owners Jean Baer and Betsy Ventura have been preparing for the opening of the Sanibel Island Farmers Market, which kicks off Sunday at the Sanibel City Hall. MEGHAN McCOY

For the second year in a row, the Sanibel Island Farmers Market will kick off this October featuring many returning favorites, as well as a few new vendors.

“Last year was a test try for us to see what the response would be and it was overwhelming,” Jean Baer, co-owner of Local Roots, LLC, said. “The locals, especially those living here year round, love the fact that we opened up a month earlier.”

The Sanibel Island Farmers Market will be held from 8 a.m. to 1p.m. every Sunday from Oct. 4, through April, 24, at Sanibel City Hall, 800 Dunlop Rd.

“It works great because it’s on a Sunday and we get to use City Hall parking, Big Arts parking and the library parking,” Baer said, adding that they can also use Herb Strauss Theatre for parking. “We have good signage instructing people where to go, as well as parking attendants.”

Although parking is available, Baer encourages individuals to ride their bike to the market using the bike paths that take individuals directly to the market.

The Sanibel Island Farmers Market began in 2008, at the Tahitian Gardens before it was moved to City Hall after it outgrew the space.

“We are both part of the community and we saw that there was a void. We think that communities need a farmers market. It strengthens the community. It brings people together,” Betsy Ventura, co-owner of Local Roots, LLC, said. “I can’t imagine one person (not finding) something at the market that they would enjoy.”

Agricultural vendors make up the Sunday market with such items as organic produce, local source seafood, hummus, cheeses, breads, grass fed beef, farm fresh eggs, pasta, jams, and local honey. The market also includes soaps, candles and flowers.

“You can do your whole shopping there,” Ventura said. “I have a lot of friends that go to Bailey’s, or Jerry’s to pick up the rest of (their) things, so people don’t have to go off island to fill whatever else they can’t find at the market.”

Almost all of the vendors are local to Lee County, with only a small percentage traveling to Sanibel from the East Coast.

“They are pretty mobile. It’s pretty amazing. Some leave at 3 in the morning to get here,” Baer said of one of their vendors, JC’s Daily Bread.

One of the new vendors this year is Among the Flowers, a Sanibel-based business that offers vegan, gluten free desserts, as well as its own nut milks. Pisces, a business from Bonita, is also new this year offering ceviche, otherwise known as fish salads.

Some of the returning organic produce vendors include Venus Veggies, which has been with the market since it opened, Sprout Queen and Pine Island Botanicals. Ventura said this year Pine Island Botanicals will have organic wild mushrooms.

Prepared food, such as wood grilled pizza, is offered at the market. Ventura said the pizza is prepared in four or five minutes on an extremely hot grill, served fresh on the spot.

All of the vendors are licensed and insured and have the proper health permits in place.

Baer encourages individuals to be adventurous and try new things while shopping at the market.

“Challenge yourself to maybe try smoked mullet if that is something you have never had,” she said. “The farmers market would be a great place to try something like that.”

Shoppers are also encouraged to talk with the vendors to get ideas of how to prepare certain foods.

“What is so special about a farmers market is that they are selling directly to the consumer,” Ventura said. “It’s the producer/consumer direct contact that you get. So take advantage of that. Take advantage of being able to ask the mozzarella man that makes his cheeses what he likes to do with it. He will talk your ear off on how to make eggplant parmesan, or to make the best caprese salad that you can possibly make.”

The market also features a different nonprofit organization of the island every week, providing them with the opportunity to share information about an upcoming event, and help promote their cause.

Reusable bags in various sizes are sold at the market to discourage plastic bags from being used. The proceeds benefit the market.

“We hope that people will buy them and reuse them and bring them back to the market and fill them up,” Ventura said.

All of the produce not sold at the market every Sunday is donated to either F.I.S.H.’s food pantry, the Salvation Army or the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife for its animals.

“Nothing goes to waste,” Ventura said. “It’s a complete wonderful use of everything.”

The owners both live on Sanibel and have been a part of the community for more than 25 years.

“It’s fun for us to be involved in it (farmers market) because it is such a positive upbeat event to do,” Baer said. “When have you been to a farmers market where everyone is miserable? They are always happy and they want to be there.”

Ventura said she enjoys seeing attendees of all ages shop the market, especially the youngsters.

“They are learning about money, buying and shopping at a local market,” she said. “It’s not a chore when you go shopping at a farmers market. We feel good because the harder we work and the more shoppers we can bring to the market the better for the vendors that are hard working people.”

After the two women began the farmers market on Sanibel in 2008, they decided to open another the following year in Fort Myers at Lakes Park. Every year since, a new market has been added, which now includes Fenway South Farmers Market, Coconut Point Farmers Market, Fort Myers Farmers Market and Bonita Springs Farmers Market.

“Each take on their own personality and we grow around them,” Baer said.

The Sanibel Island Farmers Market, which is very pet friendly, has turned into a gathering place for friends to catch up on a weekly basis.

“People come to the market first thing and get a cup of coffee and bagel and walk around, talk with friends,” Baer said. “It’s almost like we see the same people come at the same time every Sunday and they meet their different groups of friends there.”

A new market has been added this year at Florida SouthWestern State College every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 3, through April 30. In addition to produce, cheeses, gluten free treats and baked goods, barbecue ribs and smoked chicken will be cooked onsite, as well as blended healthy smoothies and meals to go will be available.

For more information about the Sanibel Farmers Market, visit www.Facebook.com/SanibelIslandFarmersMarket, or www.BuyLocalLee.com.

Follow Meghan @Islander Meghan on Twitter.