Each Wednesday, the grass at Phillippi Estate Park is full of fresh honey, grilled seafood and local residents hoping to make a purchase. In the middle, directing them all, are Fred and Grace Whitehouse.
The Whitehouses have been volunteering at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market for years. Fred, who is the market manager, has been there for 11, and Grace, who runs the welcome tent, has volunteered there for six.
Each Wednesday during season, the Whitehouses arrive to the park around 6:15 a.m. and begin marking stalls and setting up equipment. Throughout the day, they greet visitors and help vendors with their needs. At 2 p.m., they begin to tear it all down.
The couple was awarded the 2019 Florida Recreation and Park Association Voluntary Service Award.
Although they both said it was an honor to receive the award, to them, it’s not about the work.
“The best part for us is just the people,” Grace said as she gave a woman a hug. “We have been here so long that we have all our market friends. Well, I call them the market family.”
Throughout their years at the market, the Whitehouses have helped bring the number of vendors from 19 to 50 and coordinated with local nonprofit organizations, such as Humane Society of Sarasota County and Suncoast Blood Bank.
“It’s great to watch the market grow,” Fred said. “When we started, we had some very simple vendors. Now we have very professional vendors, and people really seem to like it.”
All of the proceeds the market makes from sales for vendor spots go toward renovations on the farmhouse. To date, the market has contributed $220,000 to restoring the 103-year-old house.
“There’s a lot of historical houses in Sarasota,” Fred said. “It seems like when one comes along, they can disappear. They get torn down, and a condo goes up. That’s not going to happen here.”
Once the renovations are complete, Fred said he hopes the home will be an interpretive historic center, so visitors can see what life was like in Sarasota when the farmhouse was built.
“It’d be fun for kids to see what wood parlor heater was like or experience pumping water from a pump,” he said. “The advantage of a home like this is that you get to go back in time.”
The couple is looking forward to the new Farmhouse Market season, hoping they can earn even more money for the renovations.