May 10, 2020Alternative markets taking shape in Florida with Extension connections
Thanks to some creative thinking among Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and University of Florida UF/IFAS Extension agents and community partners throughout the state, alternatives to organic, green and farmers markets are creating business traction on behalf of growers and local food producers.
When the Brevard County Farmer’s Market closed due to COVID-19, agents at UF/IFAS Extension Brevard took to the drawing board with county counterparts to find ways to support its vendors. The popular farmers’ market, held each Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., has been a mainstay since 2011. Crowds of patrons would converge at the horse stables of Wickham Park, located at 2500 Parkway Drive in Melbourne, looking for produce, eggs, honey, meats, coffee, jams, olives, and more from local growers, farmers, and cottage food businesses.
“At first we posted information connecting patrons with vendors through their websites,” said Gayle Whitworth, an agent with UF/IFAS Extension Brevard. “Then we came up with a pre-order system that allowed us to re-establish the farmers market at the park while adhering to social distancing orders and guidelines.”
The location of the pick-up was shifted to the large pavilion. Pre-ordered packages set by vendors are ready for pick-up at the pavilion on the regularly scheduled Thursdays. Entry into the park is managed as a drive thru. Links to each of the vendors for the pre-orders can be found on the Facebook page – @brevardcountyfarmersmarket.
“Patrons and vendors have been very excited since we started last Thursday (April 16) and they have been very thankful in that we are looking for ways to support them during this difficult time.” said Beth Shephard, director of the Extension in Brevard.
A unique aspect of the Brevard County Farmers Market set-up is that they continue to participate in the SNAP program allowing patrons to double the amount purchased. Typically when patrons use an EBT card at the market, there is a dollar for dollar match up to the purchase of $40.
“The amount you purchase (given in the form of orange tokens) can be used with most all of our vendors. The matching dollars (given in the form of green tokens) can only be used for fresh produce or plants that produce fruits, veggies, or herbs,” explains Shephard.
Martin County Extension, Martin County Fairgrounds partnered to get the word out.
For Yvette Alger Goodiel, UF/IFAS Extension agent in Martin County, she knows all too well the struggles that area farmers, growers, and cottage food businesses are facing. For weeks they reached out to her by phone, email, and social media seeking a way to move their products that would typically have no problem selling to local restaurants, hotels, and green markets. When Goodiel received a call from Jay Spicer, Martin County Fairgrounds manager, with an idea for a drive-thru market alternative, it only took a couple of days for the idea to take shape.
For three consecutive Sundays, more than 1,500 cars have driven thru the fairgrounds with customers purchased fresh produce, bakery items, eggs, meats, and other locally produced food products at the Martin County Fair Grounds. More than 20 vendors and growers set up from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. signaling the need for more of these alternatives. Spicer started this program in cooperation with the vendors of Stuart Green Market and other local farms, to provide the drive-thru green market.
“My thought was – how do we support our local farmers and keep the community safe,” said Spicer. “How do we find a convenient solution to moving fresh produce.”
He reached out to Goodiel to work with her Martin County Extension connections in hopes that it would help him bring other struggling growers and distributors to sell their products at the market and meet the needs of the community for fresh items.
“A little help goes a long way and if we can find a sustainable alternative during this time so that their fruits, vegetables, and products don’t go to waste, then we are helping in the best possible way that is safe and more importantly adheres to the social distancing requirements to flatten the curve,” said Goodiel.
Here is how it works. Cars enter the Martin County Fairgrounds, located at 2616 SE Dixie Hwy. Stuart, through the traffic light at Dixie Highway and Aviation Way. Each car receives a menu that lists booths by number and outlines their offerings. Numbered booths and tents will be set up 15 feet apart down the lane for safety and to meet social distancing requirements. Cars will proceed one at a time down the line of vendors, stopping in front of the vendors of their choice. Customers make their purchases and exit through the marked Gate 6.
There is no cost to joining as a vendor. You just need to bring your own set-up, supplies, and booth or tent. To join as a vendor, call Spicer at 772-220-3247. Markets are offered on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
St. Lucie Extension continues the tradition
In St. Lucie County, the Downtown Fort Pierce Farmers Market is up and running as a drive-thru farmers market as well for an unspecified duration. Scheduled for Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon, the market is located at John B. Park Sports Complex/Lawnwood Stadium, 1302 Virginia Ave, Fort Pierce. Market shoppers can purchase fresh produce, bakery items, eggs, meats, and other locally produced food items.
This unique market allows the community to support our local farmers and cottage food producers while also providing a safe and healthy opportunity for the public to buy items they crave. Cars will enter the stadium directly off Virginia Ave. Each car receives a menu that lists the booths by number wit the vendor’s offerings. Numbered booths/tents are set up in a row 20 feet apart down the driveway for safety. Cars will proceed one at a time down the line of vendors, stopping at the booths of their choice. At that time, the customer will place their order and the vendor will deliver it to their car. Shoppers are asked to bring their own shopping bags.
All vendors will be wearing a protective mask and gloves. All patrons are required to wear a protective mask.
For more information, call the UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie at 772-462-1660.