Farmers markets provide a delightful stroll for the senses and the chance to bond with family and friends. On the following pages are five prime places where you can gather nature’s bounty and socialize among the greens.
By Joseph Hayes
There was a time when the green grocer, the produce stand and the truck farmer provided all of our fruits and vegetables. In some places, produce trucks still practice the old ways, but these days, for most of us, it’s the supermarket or nothing.
But not for all of us.
Every week, throngs in Orlando and across the country continue to celebrate the comeback of the farmers market, a revival that began in the 1990s just when living downtown began to regain popularity. “It was a value-added movement,” says Sharon Yeago, treasurer of the national Farmers Market Coalition. “Small farms needed to add diversity to their produce, selling jams, jellies and breads, just to stay in business.” And with the words “local and sustainable” becoming staples of restaurant menus, buying directly from the grower became a fashionable trend. So the produce stand was reborn.
Defining it is another story. There are about 8,200 locations listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and it’s as difficult to pinpoint the modern farmers market as it is to decide on how to use the apostrophe (before the s, after, not at all?).
In Pennsylvania, the term can be used by anyone, while Maine requires anything called “farmers market” to have “two or more farmers, growing at least 75 percent of what they sell.” Washington State demands five farmers. California has strict rules: “Only the producer or the producer’s parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren … may sell the producer’s products at the market.”
We have none of those rules. “There are no regulations in Florida for what ‘farmers market’ means,” Yeago says. There are health regulations over the food itself, but no rules governing the name of the place where it is sold. Most Orlando-area markets have some combination of growers, prepared foods, crafts, art and food trucks selling their own wares and buying from outsider providers—Audubon Park’s market is Orlando’s only operation that demands vendors also be local producers.
The definition of local food—there’s another issue: whether it’s produced in the same state, within 100 miles, or “not from overseas.” The FRESHFARM market in Washington, D.C., requires that farmers and producers be from within a three-hour drive. Depending on the seller, our own limits seem to stretch well beyond that—we even get apples from New York and Oregon.
Nomenclature and rules aside, though, there’s no doubt that our local farmers markets—with their brightly colored fruits and vegetables, aroma of kettle corn, and samplings of blueberry preserves—feed our need for a feeling of homegrown-ness. And add richness to the community’s social fabric.
Eclectic spot with a homegrown focus in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
The only market in town that upholds a “local only” rule, this gathering in the parking lot of Stardust Video and Coffee feels more like a social event than a greengrocer—friends meeting over coffee to compare their catch of the day and neighbors strolling by with their dogs to get fresh pasta for dinner.
The space becomes magical after dark, when lighted canopies create oases of close-to-home goodness: lettuce from Hearts of Christmas hydroponic farm; St. Johns River honey; bread from Olde Hearth Bread Co. in Altamonte Springs. Royal Red shrimp can be found at Wild Ocean Seafood, where knife wiz Cinthia Sandoval can offer cooking suggestions. Plants from the self-descriptive “100% Edible and Fruiting Plants” stand will have your garden giving something back.
The melodiously named Gabby Othon Lothrop is a homegrown food activist, managing the market as well as being director of nearby hotspot East End Market. “When the [community] market started in 2009, there were five vendors,” she says. Now there are 25 to 35 resident artisans, farmers and gatherers advocating the indigenous food scene. “I talk to local growers every day,” Lothrop says of the challenges, “and their attitude is usually, ‘farmers don’t do farmers markets.’ But it’s changing.”
R&B Farms from Melbourne and Orlando’s My Yard Farm bring in produce for sale, but the shining star of hyper-local farming at Audubon is Sista Susie’s Organic Garden, where pale green kohlrabi, tender exotic Malabar spinach, just-picked rainbow chard and Cosmic Purple carrots share table space with eggs plucked from nests on owners Greg and Susie Clifton’s nearby plot.
The OverRice food truck serves snacks from the Philippines, with the full Stardust food and drink menu offered inside, and there’s often a live band contributing to the party atmosphere.
The Market requires that all produce, meats and seafood be from Florida, and items such as jellies, cakes and sweets be made locally from scratch. Vendors of clothing and jewelry live in the area.
“The focus is local food,” Lothrop says, “but we’re really a gathering place for this great neighborhood.”
HOURS: Monday, 6-10 p.m.
LOCATION: 1842 E. Winter Park Road, Orlando
ON THE WEB: audubonmarket.com
PARKING: Along Corrine Drive, at Partners in Women’s Healthcare, and at Brookshire Elementary. Cars on Winter Park Road anywhere north of ABC liquors will get ticketed; parking at ABC will get you towed.
A walk in the park, a beer and people-watching in The City Beautiful.
The market at Lake Eola is unique, a wholly urban social scene in the middle of one of our few real downtowns. It’s a heady mix: the smell of kettle corn—a farmers market staple—competing with the potent perfumes of orange blossoms, hand-made soap and almonds roasting at the two Nutty Bavarian carts; flocks of red-billed ibis strutting through the open green, while long-limbed beauties practice yoga and tiny gray-haired women fill their carts from vegetable stands; the sounds of children running through the park, the resonance of bamboo chimes blowing in the wind and Joseph Martens playing his weekly guitar gig in the beer garden.
Market manager Dana Brown says there are close to 100 regular vendors, including several added in a late April expansion. The market began on Church Street in 1987, moving to the plaza in front of the Orange County Regional History Center and finally to Lake Eola in 2005. “We’re a European-style community gathering,” Brown says. “For 20 bucks, you can have lunch and buy some art.”
The market area overlooking the lake can get remarkably busy, a steady stream of meanderers flowing over a crafts-laden bridge from lakeside to a circle surrounding a tree-shaded seating area. On the bridge, artisans sell clothing, goats’ milk soap, photos and jewelry. A different kind of art is practiced by David Shockley, in-house chef at Orlando City Pasta, who, with owner Peter Mastrangelo, sells fresh linguini and ravioli at several local markets. “I like the direct interaction with people,” Shockley says. Customers send recipes and photos when they like his more unusual flavors such as sriracha-spiced pasta or sea salt caramel fettuccini.
On the circle, beef jerky, fresh squeezed juices and hot crepes offer sustenance. The path leads to the Morris Family Farm stand selling local corn, peppers and strawberries from under a giant oak. Jonathan Morris farms 30 acres in Sanford. “It’s our seventh year,” he says. “We started with a pickup truck out there on the curb, selling corn and tomatoes.” He says the market is not just about produce, but community and family tradition.
“My father farmed, my grandfather farmed. We don’t farm because it’s cool.”
HOURS: Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
LOCATION: East Central Boulevard and North Eola Drive
ON THE WEB: orlandofarmersmarket.com
PARKING: Free street parking on Sunday. Paid parking garages on South Osceola Avenue and North Eola Drive.
A family- and dog-friendly atmosphere with places to sit, eat and play.
The narrow path around Lake Lily is home to joggers, bikers and dog walkers during the week, and that doesn’t really change on Sundays. They just add a market.
Bookmarked by two small produce stands from JDM Farms and Ron Scheidel Farms, the eclectic family-oriented Maitland market is a first-name affair. Fred’s Franks, Cathy’s Cajun Cuisine pickles, Uncle John’s Peanuts and Miss Elaine’s Taste of Jamaica join orchid sellers, fudge makers, coffee roasters, kettle-corn poppers and lemonade squeezers in the tree-shaded lanes.
Strolling with children (lots of children) and dogs (even more dogs), families take time to sample dried fruit and kale chips, homemade dips, meatballs and sauce, and kettle corn while examining jewelry made from orange peels and coffee beans, as well as dog collars, doggie treats and Doggone Cupcakes. Daytona’s Songkran Thai offers spring rolls and noodles, Dragonfly Confections of Winter Park has cheesecakes and fudge, and Che Bella trades in imported cheese.
Jacqueline Boccard, a nutritionist by training, makes traditional cookies for her booth, which she calls “a little piece of heaven.” Presented in clear cases with hand-lettered signs, the macaroons, Italian pinoli and handmade black & white cookies look like miniature artwork under glass. “Every Friday I bake,” she says. “All day—sometimes Saturday, too.”
Mari Smith, Maitland’s special events coordinator, says the market is “a place to have a nosh and hang out with your family.” Because Maitland is absent a designated downtown, the park becomes a focal point for the social scene, ribboning around the lake amid five acres of playgrounds, picnic areas and running trails.
Started six years ago in nearby Quinn Strong Park, the market is one of the smaller and younger in the area, with 35 vendors. But the playground right behind the stands is usually full, as are the benches and tables, with folks enjoying the live music, food trucks and an occasional incursion of the resident Muscovy ducks. After all, it is their park, too.
HOURS: Sunday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
LOCATION: Lake Lily Park, Maitland Avenue and U.S. Highway 17-92
ON THE WEB: itsmymaitland.com
PARKING: Free on site in two adjacent lots, the Public Library on Maitland Avenue and Seacoast Bank on Ventris Avenue.
A cornucopia of goodness surrounded by a great little town.
From sleepy citrus town to bustling village alive with the arts and community events, the revival of Winter Garden is a lesson in commitment and transformation. Once almost forgotten, the 110-year-old city now has the Mediterranean Revival-style Garden Theatre, the lively West Orange Trail and a thriving downtown.
As you walk through the plaza built for the farmers market, none of the nearly 80 vendors—the tables of jewelry, pickles and Dead Sea mud soap, the fish and chips truck, the guy who makes bamboo whistles—will prepare you for one of the best examples of this city’s revival, the Arts & Crafts-style brick pavilion that houses the produce market.
Built three years ago with echoes of Victorian market houses, the soaring structure is the perfect setting for this bounty, gloriously filled with banks of tables creaking from the weight of local green beans, cabbage, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, cauliflower, kale, zucchini and cucumbers, joined by heaps of Pennsylvania pumpkins, Washington pears and North Carolina eggplant.
Some of these are the fruits of Bradley Gardner’s labors. His Gardner’s Fresh Produce company farms in Clermont and on a community garden on nearby Ninth Street. The smell of vine-ripened tomatoes, blushing mangoes and ready-to-eat Georgia peaches is intoxicating, and shoppers are obviously clued in, walking from bin to bin with their own baskets, inspecting peppers and avocados like fine jewels.
Arnes Wilson has arrived with a large folding carrier and a shopping list, looking like a professional chef. “I like the quality, the variety … you never know what will be here and that’s fun. It’s a great value,” he says, with a two-handed heave of his loaded basket, “and a workout.”
Local produce abounds. Lake Meadow Naturals, just a few minutes away, has a great booth, offering their eggs as well as the chicken, cheeses and produce they usually sell at their farm store. Green Sky Growers, based in a rooftop “farm” within walking distance of the market, has hydroponic lettuces and herbs. And for those interested in getting away from the kitchen, several splendid restaurants such as The Tasting Room and Harry & Larry’s Bar-B-Que are within a few steps, so one really can eat local.
HOURS: Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
LOCATION: 104 S. Lakeview Ave., Winter Garden
ON THE WEB: wintergardenfarmersmarket.com
PARKING: City Hall lot on Plant Street, public lot behind the Garden Theatre, or on surrounding streets.
In a historic setting, an assortment of produce, plants—and butterflies.
This most gentrified of local markets becomes part of the Park Avenue promenade scene on Saturday mornings. Joining the neighborhood shoppers are vacationers and the occasional sightseer.
The Winter Park market has grown from a neighborhood shopping spot when it opened in 1979 to a genuine community gathering place today. “We have a unique variety here,” says Ron Moore, the city’s assistant director. “There are no resale or crafts.’’ Rather, the focus is on food, plants and the wonder of nature.
The 85 vendors have become attractions, with shoppers stopping for chopped pineapple at the Indian River fruit stand, a fresh croissant courtesy of Chez Vincent’s stand, or eggs from Lake Meadow Naturals’ chickens in Ocoee. The Fry Bar does a bang-up business selling New Orleans-style French fries, while the line for pastries at Davis Bakery, in the restored 1920s train depot, seems never-ending. And of course, there is the popular
“Butterfly Man” Lorenzo Zayas selling Luna moth and swallowtail chrysalises at Nature’s Way Butterfly Gardens.
Howard Jacobson, who sells dried fruit, is in his 12th year at Winter Park, surrounded by deep red dried strawberries, bright green kiwis and organic raw nuts. “It’s the intelligence factor,” he says. “People here know what they’re looking at. You’re not going to find this in Publix.”
Market regulars Howard and Barbara Gold come to socialize, read the newspaper and buy a few things for the week. “There are very few actual farmers,” Gold says. Then he points toward one of the few, Marjorine and Herbert Felder at their produce stand. The Felders have been at the market 32 years; Herbert grew vegetables when he was a kid in his family’s backyard on New England Avenue in Winter Park and sold them to neighbors.
Although the couple live in Altamonte Springs, Herbert travels to their organic farm in South Georgia each week and trucks down a selection of produce that changes with the season. This particular week it is spinach, turnips, rutabaga and three types of radish. Marjorine nods at Herbert (“He does the talking”); Herbert says it’s her stand; he “just raises things.”
HOURS: Saturday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.
LOCATION: 200 W. New England Ave., Winter Park
ON THE WEB: cityofwinterpark.org
PARKING: On nearby streets and the public lots on New York Avenue and Morse Boulevard, and Lyman and New England avenues. The City Hall lot is available, as well as valet.