Starting a farmers market in the Tampa Bay area can be a daunting task at any time.
Doing so under the current climate, however, could prove fatal for the freshest of fresh markets.
Many farmer’s markets in the area have closed in the past few years, and as part of a recent Tampa Bay Times expose on the farm-to-table movement, the author set her sights on the place where the phenomenon really began—local farmer’s markets.
“We’re calling it the Market on Main for the purposes of understanding we cannot secure true farmers at this time,” market manager Brandon Ahlgren told Safety Harbor Connect on Sunday.
“Number one, they can’t supply all the markets in the area at this time, and two, people can’t afford the true farmer’s prices.”
Ahlgren, who also owns Elite Events and Rentals in town, went on to explain that many Florida farms are struggling to meet the demands of fresh markets and restaurants, and the abundance of so many markets makes it difficult for vendors to source everything locally.
“Farms are trying to meet the demands, but many don’t have the manpower or ability to do so,” he said.
Ahlgren’s claim was backed up by at least one Market on Main vendor, who added another reason why it’s difficult to secure locally grown produce.
“I buy and sell as much as I can from local farmers, but not a lot of stuff grows organically in Florida because insects and humidity are a problem year round,” Jason Kilpatrick of Clearwater’s Kilpatrick Produce, said.
“But regardless of where it was grown, everything I sell is farm goods.”
But the real question regarding the fresh, or farmers markets, isn’t whether all the products are locally sourced, because they’re obviously not, but whether the market is fulfilling the overarching purpose of bringing people to the community.
“Farmer’s markets used to be all farm products, but that’s not what it’s about anymore,” Dempsey Lee of longtime Clearwater citrus provider Florida Citrus Country, said. “It’s about small businesses coming together to provide unique products and enhance the community as a whole.”
“Other markets might misrepresent where they’re getting their good from, but as long as they’re buying and producing good stuff, I’m all for it.”
One market goer we spoke to shared Lee’s belief.
“I love being able to go to one place and see candles, jewelry, clothes as well as the food and produce,” Gayle Robinson of Clearwater said after she finished a crepe served by one of the food trucks at the market.
“It’s the uniqueness that draws me to the market, and the chance to meet business owners and find new businesses that I never knew existed.”
Against this backdrop, Ahlgren said MOSH board members are experimenting with the right formula for their market.
“We’re doing some different things, offering cheeses and sausages and kid-owned businesses,” he said.
“And we’re changing the hours starting next week to 10 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. to accommodate the many requests we’ve had to be open later.”
With just three more weekends to find the right combination of hours, vendors and entertainment before the market goes on hiatus for the summer, Ahlgren hopes they will will be able to turn Safety Harbor’s newest farmer’s market into a success.
“The big question is, what do we do to keep the market beneficial to everybody?” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
For more information on the Safety Harbor Farmer’s Market on Main, visit their Facebook page.
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