Downtown Sarasota is a bundle of lively commerce, endless construction, and cultural interplay underpinned with a melodious racket and ceaseless heat. While many enjoy the chaotic and busy energy of the city, others look for openings to get away. Beyond the bustling roads and sky-splitting high rises which characterize much of Downtown Sarasota lies such an oasis. With street barriers that shield participants from the commotion of traffic, the Sarasota community comes together each Saturday to enjoy the festivities of the local Sarasota Farmers Market, held from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The enticing scent of tasty food emanates from vendor stalls and saturates the air, inviting onlookers to investigate and join. Upon entering, one is welcomed by the gentle clamor of trade and friendly conversation. A fantastic and diverse array of booths peddle goods ranging from fresh produce, exotic seashells, fruit trees, bike mechanics, local attire and more.
“It’s a joyful entrance, you might say,” longtime ambassador of the market, Francis Scheuer said. “Coffee in hand, walking right into the vendor’s end crowd, so sometimes you can meet 5,000 people. Hah, good morning!”
Participants don’t come alone either—many have taken to bringing their adorable pups along for the ride. An assortment of breeds and sizes strut alongside the market pathways.
“What we realized was happening during COVID-19—and still during COVID-19, is that people started to come not really to shop, but actually to see and talk with other people,” Scheuer explained. “And so of course, why not bring your dog? So the [dog] population has increased.”
This trend highlights a fascinating and often overlooked role the Farmers Market may play in the community. In addition to providing delicious fresh produce and supporting local businesses, it allows people to connect with the community and share their presence, ideas and culture.
“I am thrilled that Sarasota’s market is engaging, welcoming and exciting,” Interim Co-Dean of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library Helene Gold emphatically stated. “I feel strongly about supporting local businesses, farmers and services, and the Sarasota Market allows me to connect with the broader community while spending my money in the local community. Also, the selection of fresh produce, baked goods and prepared foods is really impressive!”
Seven different produce vendors currently supply the Farmers Market with their fresh fruits and vegetables. They source their goods by taking hauls from local Florida farms and distribution chains around the country.
“I focus on bringing what they call a number one quality,” owner of Kinsey’s Produce, Travis Kinsey said. “I try to bring the best stuff all the time. I would prefer to pay more for the better stuff and charge more. That’s kind of how I like to do my business.”
While not all of the produce is local or certified as organic, Kinsey assured that it’s of the highest quality and fresher than what you would find anywhere else and explained his supply logistics.
“Not everything grows in Florida,” Kinsey said. “So, if it’s something more tropical that people expect, like bananas or plums, I get them from California, Washington [or] Michigan. But if it’s local, I will typically get it local. Although sometimes, let’s say, for example, the corn in Florida is not so green. I get a higher quality of food by getting it from Ohio. You know, huge beautiful ears. So that’s what I do.”
Kinsey then mentioned that there’s more to produce quality than just where it’s sourced. An advantage for the Farmers Market vendors is that their stock isn’t held for long, and they often pick it up just the day before. Consequently, produce tastes better and lasts longer.
Many people were lining the aisles for produce at the market, perusing their choices. The turnout for the Farmers Market seemed relatively healthy. Still, the pandemic may have shaken things up at the market despite its outdoor location.
“For the first time in like 40 years, we were like closed,” Scheuer explained. “And people mourned that. I see people on the street, and they say, ‘Francis, when are you going to open the market again!'”
Scheuer also commented on how the demographic has changed since its reopening.
“Young people are there in volume, and all the regulars,” Scheuer said, “That’s one of the nice things about it. You know, young people dress differently. You know what I mean? And there are all these colorful designs and clothing ensembles.”
Those who experienced this ensemble first hand considered the Sarasota Farmers Market to be lively and pleasant, with an underlying complexity that distinctly marks places where people’s lives intersect.
“There is always live music, lots of folks bring their dogs and I almost always run into colleagues,” Gold said. “It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning!”
“People like heart,” Scheuer spoke sincerely. “People like community.”
Whether one is interested in fresh ingredients, eclectic goods, lovable companions or good company, the Sarasota Farmers Market may be an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday morning.