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Farmers market takes root

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  • | 4:00 a.m. September 10, 2014
Kathleen Brady shops for tomatoes and peppers at Monji Mechergui's booth. Photos by Amanda Sebastiano
Kathleen Brady shops for tomatoes and peppers at Monji Mechergui's booth. Photos by Amanda Sebastiano
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EAST COUNTY — The farmers market held Aug. 30 on Lakewood Ranch Main Street was a trial run to gauge community support for bringing a market back after a three-year hiatus.

The event’s more than 1,000 attendees made the decision an easy one: The market is here to stay.

In an agreement with Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty, which manages Main Street, Jen’s MarketPlace will hold a farmers market Sept. 27, Oct. 18, Nov. 22 and Dec. 20.

The hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will stay the same for now. But Main Street Property Manager Amanda Vercheski thinks the market might receive an even better turnout if it’s held earlier in the morning, because of rising temperatures in the afternoon during the summer, she said.

The market also plans to add more vendors and expand further down Main Street. The 10 to 12 vendors the market will add to its lineup include those selling fruits and vegetables as well as some offering jewelry. After about two hours, the vendors at the Aug. 30 market nearly ran out of produce.

“The only not completely positive feedback I received was that there weren’t enough fruit and vegetables,” Vercheski said.

To accommodate the more than 25 vendors scheduled to come to the next market later this month, the event will expand to the intersection near Michelle Wise’s store, Unleashed for Pets.

Jen’s MarketPlace organizer and owner Jennifer McCafferty hopes the additional vendors will help match the demand of patrons who want to buy homegrown health foods.

“I’d say about 98% of the feedback I received was positive,” McCafferty said. “But, I had people ask about products we hadn’t brought in yet, like soaps and jewelry. Others said the market was sort of small and that we didn’t have enough vegetables by the time they showed up in the afternoon. Hopefully, by adding another vegetable vendor, we can prevent that; we weren’t expecting so many people, though. This was the largest turnout we’ve had.”

After the market ended, vendors also made shopping lists, noting which items sold and which were less popular.

For McCafferty, who operates three other fresh markets in Apollo Beach and in Largo, the turnout was the largest she has seen at any of her markets.

She credits the high turnout to marketing, in which she has a background and college degree, although she only had about three weeks to organize the event.

Vendors from McCafferty’s other locations sent email blasts to customers to help generate attention to the East County location. Community interest from individuals who wanted to see the market have better and more sustainable results than its predecessors played the largest role.

McCafferty said as she looks to grow the variety of vendors, she will keep the market’s focus on fresh, high-quality produce.

But for now, she’s pleased with the results of her first effort.

“The turnout was quite amazing,” McCafferty said. I expected maybe 500 to 800 people for the first market. We doubled my expectations.”

Michelle Wise
Owner of Unleashed for Pets
If I could have a Saturday that good every week, I would be happy. It was an enjoyable day.”

Maria Rosabal
General manager of Healthy Living Organic and Natural Market
We definitely saw a lot of customers during the market. The farmers market didn’t seem like competition at all; it helped bring people to the street.”




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