BY SUSAN ERWIN – After some recent concerns over the future of the Boca Grande Farmers Market existing at the Wheeler Road Ballfield, we can be secure in the knowledge the second farmers market season will be starting on Friday, Oct. 2 at that location. The fate of season three, however, is still up in the air and other location options are being looked into … just to be on the safe side.
Shauna Lee Lange, founder of the Boca Grande Farmers Market, started planning for the initial weekly open-air marketplace in the summer of 2014. The market runs every Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., October through April.
Lange expressed concern in August about the future of the farmers market in a letter written to the Boca Beacon.
Pending changes, resulting from controversies in how Lee County plans to allocate and award future community development permitting had Lange worried that the market’s location stability may be at risk. But she said recently the market has since obtained a license and permit for this season.
“We’re thrilled to have obtained our full permitting and licensing for our season two opening on Friday, Oct. 2,” Lange said. “Updates from Lee County include plans to examine the viability of putting farmers markets (where located on County property such as the Ball Field) out for public bid in the county’s Request for Proposal process. The County Commissioners are also taking under advisement whether there should be restrictions on food vs. craft percentages. We are meeting regularly with influencers and authorities to ensure we understand the initiatives, their causality, and their resolution. We continue to examine alternative solutions including siting the market on private property or changing the structure of the market for the 2016/2017 season. Boca Grande Farmers Market is committed to our community and we plan to be a continuing institution for many years to come, irrespective of what we may need to do to restructure or reformat.”
Lange said when Lee County gave their blessing to use the Wheeler Road Ball Field, she was delighted with the news. The area had good visibility, ample parking and available restrooms. So, she quickly started searching for area vendors to commit to the location. Seven months later, the first season proved to be a success.
First year market results were about 40 vendors weekly, with a highest count of about 55, inclement weather count of about 15, and an average that ended up being somewhere in the middle. Lange said during peak season, the number of visitors at the market reached into the upper 900s each week.
“It’s important to know that Boca Grande Farmers Market is unique. Where we lack in volume of visitors compared to other area markets, we excel in committed fans who desperately want to see the market succeed on Gasparilla Island,” she said. Lange said as for 2015/2016, some specialty vendors have expressed an interest in a month per month or bi-weekly appearances.
“Although the response for this season’s market has been very strong, and applications continue to come in, a manager never really knows exactly how many vendors will be able to fulfill commitments on market day. Many of our vendors are established businesses juggling several area markets held on different days of the week. Others travel in excess of three hours each way to attend our market.”
More than 75 percent of the vendors from the inaugural market are returning in some form or capacity this year. Lange said that number is important as she seeks to develop trusted relationships with all the vendors.
“Many of our vendors who came weekly and remained for the entire season during our inaugural year did quite well both financially and relationally, which after all is maybe most important in the end. The heart of any true farmers market is in the people you are serving. Those vendors who actively engaged, who used the opportunity to educate, who offered customer service in unique ways, who accepted and filled orders, who made themselves available for special events both during market and off-hours … those are the vendors who enjoyed popularity and who became more invested in the entire process.”
In season two, there will be an increase in mobile food vendors, specialty artisans, and niche foods. Developments this season include increased produce both organic and chemical free, and cottage industrialists committed to whole health offerings.
“Our aim is to ensure there is something for everyone, that we have a safe and fun environment, and most importantly that the products being offered are edifying,” Lange said. “I am particularly excited about a new maple syrup farmer joining us straight from Vermont and about some very interesting veggie wraps – but I don’t want to give anything away. You just have to come out to the Ball Field (left at the range light) to see for yourselves.”
Lange said between now and October 2, she will be highlighting various vendors through Facebook (Boca Grande Farmers Market) or follow them at bocagrandefarmersmarket.com.
“We also encourage you to share information about anybody the residents may know who is secretly cooking up something fantastic right here in our back yard,” she said.