all photos courtesy Puneet Sandhu/Catalyst
The farmer’s market at the Shell gas station right by New College campus will be shutting down this week, unless the owner, Tim Huffman, can find a new location. Huffman said he would like to work with New College to be able to set up on their property, either on the parking lot behind the Shell or on the stretch of grass at the corner of Tamiami and General Spaatz Boulevard.
“[The Shell is] having a visit as they may be doing some remodeling and until that takes place we don’t know [where] we’ll be setting up,” Huffman said. “I would love to work something out with New College and donate proceeds back to them for an activities fund or even toward a scholarship, wherever the need is greater.”
Huffman has been paying 10 percent of his profit to the Shell as rent. If he is able to move onto New College property, he said, he would offer the same rent to New College.
The idea for the farmer’s market came to Huffman after he lost his job last December. He began doing yard sales from his home to make money, then met Debbie Jones, who led him to the idea of selling fruits and vegetables. Jones currently works with Huffman, designing planters to sell at his market.
All of the fruits and vegetables Huffman sells come from a local Amish family.
“I’ve only got about six weeks’ experience, but I’ve been blessed because the Detwiler family, an Amish family in Sarasota, have a huge market down at Packinghouse Road and Palmer,” Huffman said. “They have been very gracious to me [and] they give me a discount on my products. Just for the record, I’m about $0.25 to $0.50 higher than if you would go out to them. I usually carry about 60 or 70 items in produce.”
According to Huffman, the pretzels he sells come from the Detwilers’ family in Pennsylvania while the veggie chips come from their family in Ohio.
Huffman donates 10 percent of his profits to various food banks in Sarasota and also hosts canned food drives for churches and charities. He said giving back to charities is important to him because in 2008, he was homeless for some time. “I got to experience first-hand what it was like living on the street, eating at the Salvation Army [and] the Resurrection House,” Huffman said. He managed buildings for some time after that and opened up a homeless shelter which was closed because of city code enforcements. “So I ran out of personal money and went back to work for corporate America, but I’ve always known I have a call in my life to help the needy because I know what they’re going through,” Huffman said. After losing his corporate job in December, Huffman followed his passion of helping others through his work with the farmer’s market.
The produce at Huffman’s Market is sold outside while the backdrop to the market is a yellow school bus. Recently, Huffman set up a thrift store inside the bus.
“The school bus has a little bit of nostalgia,” Huffman said. “A lot of kids grew up [with it] and they think it’s neat, so that’s why we want to keep the school bus theme.”
The items sold in the school bus were purchased by others working with Huffman, who visit garage sales and make offers to buy all remaining items to sell at Huffman’s Market. Huffman said anyone can rent out a space inside the bus to sell their own items. From profits made by those renting out space, 10 percent goes to Huffman as rent and another 10 percent goes to a local food bank.
Huffman said he hopes to purchase a second school bus to sell made-to-order fruit and vegetable gift baskets. He also owns a concession stand, which he hopes to bring to his market to sell freshly-made fruit drinks.
Currently, the market hours are Mon. through Fri. from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Huffman said the hours are designed so that he can commute to Tampa, where he was awarded a scholarship for Bible College, while still having time to study and run the market.
“My goal would be, as the volume goes up and I can afford to pay a student or someone, I would have no problem being open 12 hours a day,” Huffman said. “I just personally can’t do that and go to college myself.”
Huffman said reception so far has been very good and students have been helpful in giving him advice on what items to sell at the market. One student grows the cucumbers Huffman sells, while another grows herb gardens that Huffman plans to purchase for sale.
“I guess I won’t be going back to working for corporate America because I’m really having a good time,” Huffman said. “I probably put in about 80-some hours a week, but I don’t think of it as work. I’m just enjoying every moment and the people that I get to meet … It’ll be a while before I start making a living off it, but I have everything I need. I’m very comfortable.”