New site ID’d for Farmers Market

 

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By BOB MUDGE – SENIOR WRITER the Venice Gondolier

With the start date for downtown road work less than three months away, patrons of the Venice Farmers Market may be getting nervous about what’s going to happen to it until the roads are done.

Market manager Lee Perron says everything is under control.

From April until the work is completed (the goal is November, before season), the market will set up on Avenue de Parques, just west of Venice City Hall, instead of on West Tampa Avenue.

It was one of the potential sites in earlier discussions of relocating the market to reduce traffic congestion and avoid having to close it for special events downtown, when city policy only allows one road to be closed.

The prospect of moving the market led about 30 vendors to appear last May before the city’s Economic Development Advisory Board to object to any relocation. In particular, moving to near City Hall, several blocks away from the current site, would have less visibility and less parking, they said.

Nothing more came of those discussions, but remaining in place is not an option for the market while all the main roads downtown are being redone.

Perron, who has been the market manager since July, said he’s still meeting with the city to work out the details, including the date of the move, but, “I think it’s going to be pretty simple and easy transition to make.”

It helps, he said, that the market has fewer vendors and lower attendance over the summer, meaning parking and utilities are less of a concern.

He’ll probably be able to have the market open a few extra Saturdays as well.

There will be conflicts with Venice MainStreet’s Seafood Festival, in May, and Art Festival, in November, which will have priority for the market’s new space. But Perron said the market may be held in conjunction with craft fairs MainStreet has planned for June and September.

Sun Fiesta, held in October, won’t require a closure either, as it likely will be held at the airport.

Perron is confident the market will be back in its usual spot in November as planned, though another rough hurricane season is a possible “wild card,” he said.

Giving back

Another 15 vendors have joined the market since he took over, Perron said, all in the food space.

There are new farm vendors, including one selling certified organic produce, and five new bakers with different specialties, one of whom makes the trek from Port St. Lucie, on the other side of the state, every Saturday.

There’s even a cheesemonger selling cheese from boutique cheese houses.

“The diversity in the food space has really created an increase in the attendance,” he said. “In fact, we set a record last weekend.”

An economic impact study performed in 2016 put the average weekly attendance at the market at 3,000. Counters clicked off 4,500 people on Feb. 3, he said.

“Saturdays have become quite the event downtown Venice,” he said.

By adding vendors and reducing operating costs, Perron said, the market has shown that it’s not just sustainable, but that it can give back to the community.

This month it will be donating a total of $5,000 to the Salvation Army Food Pantry; Our Mother’s House, for single mothers; Good Samaritan Pharmacy and Health Services; and Friends of Sarasota County Parks.

Those four nonprofits meet needs for food, health and shelter, complementing the market’s mission, Perron said.

Another round of donations is likely during the summer, he said.

“It’s a good start,” he said.

Email: bmudge@venicegondolier. com

VENICE FARMER’S MARKET CELEBRATES 20th YEAR

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.