- December 6, 2018
Monaca Onstad never is sure which way her job as director of community relations with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch might take her.
On this particular day, it took Onstad to a farmers market. Actually, it took her there quite a few days.
Onstad was doing research, albeit a fun type of research. She was trying to find vendors who would be the right fit for The Market at Lakewood Ranch, which makes its debut 3 to 7 p.m., Dec. 6 at the Sarasota Polo Club.
"It's important if I am going to do an event that I make sure to lay things out right," said Onstad, who took over her current job in July, 2016. "The feel has to be right so people are welcome the moment they come in. We want them to feel, 'Wow, this is Lakewood Ranch.'"
But why a farmers market? Hasn't the idea failed before in Lakewood Ranch? Isn't there plenty of competition in Sarasota and Manatee counties?
"Well, my job is community relations," she said. "I am looking to form a community connection. We're community builders (at SMR). I can't think of a better thing to bring the community together than food."
Onstad has signed up 16 vendors so far for The Market at Lakewood Ranch and they will offer "everything from chicken to milk to cheeses, honey, breads, prepared foods and seafood." The YMCA will be on hand each week to present fitness demonstrations and, for the first event, live music will be provided by the Trevor Bystrom Acoustic Duo which also features Kristie Armas. Little Geniuses of Lakewood Ranch will provide children's activities and the event will raise money for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee. USF will present cooking demonstrations.
The Market at Lakewood Ranch is somewhat of an offshoot of the Organic Veggie Boxes that Onstad started in the summer. Onstad formed a partnership with Punta Gorda-based Worden Farm for a community supported agriculture program.
Organic Veggie Boxes is a program in which people would purchase a membership and each Wednesday, December through April, they would pick up a container of organic vegetables provided by Worden Farm. The cost was $29 per week and payment was due in advance so the farmers could plant the right amounts.
The Market at Lakewood Ranch will be a drop-off point for Organic Veggie Boxes and those who visit (non-members of Organic Veggie Boxes) will have the opportunity to purchase leftover boxes. Like Organic Veggie Boxes, the Market at Lakewood Ranch will run from Dec. 6 though April 18.
"I started Organic Veggie Boxes to see if there was a demand," Onstad said. "We had success. It was all about farming and knowing where (the food) is coming from."
She started surveying local groups to see if they would support a farmers market. The answer was a resounding "yes."
"Our goal is to bring in the food you can't get," she said. "The byproduct is that people will connect."
Among the vendors will be Maggie's Seafood, Grove Ladder Farm and Peperonata Fresh Pasta and Empanadas.
"I am honestly very selective when it comes to quality," Onstad said. "We want to have the right vendors. We went to the best people we could find to create this."
Grove Ladder Farm will offer specialties such as duck eggs. Those who attend will be able to stroll and snack on such delights as lobster rolls and fish tacos.
Wednesdays were selected because Onstad said she didn't want to compete with other farmers markets held on Saturdays. It was also a natural with the Organic Veggie Boxes drop-off.
She isn't worried that previous efforts on Main Street might not have experienced sustained success.
"Doing it on Main Street is different," she said. "We are restricted in what we can offer. I feel people here are ready now. And at the Polo Club, we have all the parking we need and we have no restrictions. We don't have to worry about space."
She isn't worried about a solid turnout.
"It's what I love about our residents here," she said. "They show up. They want to be social."
She did have one must when it came to setting up vendors.
"I had to have pickles," she said. "I love pickles."