By ED SCOTT
SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
Like the rotation of crops in a field, the Venice Farmer’s Market was due for a change.
When Lee A. Perron asked Venice residents where they go to shop at a farmer’s market, many said they went to downtown Sarasota on Saturday mornings and to Englewood on Thursdays. Those answers were instructive to Perron, who serves as manager of the Englewood market and helped found it in 2011, and has managed the Venice market since taking it over July 1 for the retiring Linda Wilson.
Perron asked the local respondents why they shopped elsewhere. They told him the Venice Farmer’s Market did not have enough food choices.
“The market evolved over a long period of time,” Perron said. “It’s a hybrid market made up of food and agriculture plus arts and crafts.
“That makes absolute sense because that represents the Venice community and represents its location in the downtown destination. But they did not have any certified organic Florida farmers in the market. They did not have enough diversity in the baked goods space and they did not have the type of food artisans that you would want to see at a farmer’s market, such as a butcher, a cheese monger.”
Perron’s goal was to give shoppers an opportunity to buy at the market everything they need to “cook a fabulous meal for family or friends.”Perron, who received a five-year contract from the city of Venice to operate the Venice market, said the quest to meet that goal already has begun. They’ve added four new bakers. One is JC’s Daily Bread of Port St. Lucie. Another is Sift Bakehouse of Sarasota, who specializes in breakfast goods. Yet another is Nonna’s Wholly Cannoli, whom Perron calls a “rock star Italian baker from the East Coast (of Florida), who focuses on traditional Italian baked goods. When Nonna’s sets up cannoli tables in Sarasota, Perron said, it creates long lines of fans.
Also at the Venice market now is Island Gluten Free Bakery, based in downtown Sarasota, which caters to people who have ciliac disease. GFB customers don’t have to worry about getting sick by gluten contamination there, Perron said.
“These are people who are baking at night, the night before,” Perron said. “They are bringing in fresh baked goods in the morning. They’re not day-old; they’re not wholesale. They’re directly from the (local) bakers.”
Another goal is to enable customers to buy produce directly from Florida farmers with no “middle man.”
There are two Florida farmers involved: Venus Veggies, a certified Florida organic farm from near Lake Okeechobee, and Fresh Harvest, an Arcadia farm that began selling produce in Venice in November.
“It was sorely needed to have Florida growers in the market, Perron said.
Beef Country is a butcher based in Port Charlotte which brings in custom-cut meats “and some of the best homemade sausages you’ve ever tasted,” Perron said. Perron says vendors at the Venice market, which opened in 1997, plan to have their 20th anniversary celebration in December. The celebration will focus on three aspects of the local market: the 20th anniversary, the start of the 2017-18 farmer’s market season and marking 2017 as the point when the market underwent a significant upgrade in the food space, Perron said.
Perron says vendors he has worked with in Englewood also believe inthe philosophy and potential of the Venice market.
“These are serious food artisans and they are coming in to completely rebuild the market because they believe in the demographics in Venice,” he said.
Master Chef Craig Chasky functions as a celebrity chef in the Venice and Englewood markets. You might find him using a customer’s grocery list or recipe to shop the various vendors for fresh seafood, produce and pasta and then create a meal at the market.
You can eat it there or Chasky will pack it up and you can take it home, Perron said, or buy the ingredients, take them home and cook it yourself.
Deciding whether to cook for yourself or let someone else do the cooking? Just another form of crop rotation.
For more information, go to TheVeniceFarmersMarket.com.
The Venice Farmer’s Market opens weekly on
Saturday mornings downtown on the island.