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Farmers markets a reflection of communities

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By Karen Kennedy-Hall
Chronicle Correspondent

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What originated as a way for farmers to connect and share their crops with neighbors, Community Farmers Markets are quickly becoming a way of life in many cities, towns and villages nationwide.

But now, these weekly markets spotlight not only farm products but also local artisans and craftsman who share their talents and creations in an expansive array of products.

And each local market is different, reflecting the local culture of its inhabitants and the area.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Ed Avalos in his Aug. 9 blog, in celebrating National Farmers Market Week, said “As a nation of immigrants, we have many rich and complex influences woven into the history of our country. Foods we eat, holidays we celebrate, how we create goods or perform services — these are all things that are shaped by the cultural identities of our families and the communities around us.

“For many communities, farmers markets are playing a pivotal role in maintaining and enabling these cultural ties.”

In Citrus County, every Friday and Saturday, from now through spring, three community farmers markets are embedded into our social life as they offer much more than farm products but also a vehicle for local residents to connect with neighbor artisans, local entrepreneurs or to discover treasures and learn a skill.

In going with the trend in farmers markets, the downtown Crystal River market, which reopened on Sept. 14 after a summer hiatus, has changed its name to Market Days with Art and Treasures. And the newest market in the Crystal River Mall calls its monthly gathering of vendors, the West End Market.

From different locations throughout the county, each market is unique, giving residents a reason to visit them all.
Inverness Farmers Market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays at the Government Plaza in the downtown area.

More vendors are invited to set up a 10-feet-by-10-feet space. The cost is $15. Call 352-270-8559 for information. Two free spaces are set aside each market for nonprofit organizations but registration is required.

With at least 22 vendors, there’s fresh produce, local honey, custom-made jewelry, fresh cut flowers, stationery and business cards made from recycled paper, homemade dog biscuits, custom-embroidered towels and aprons, homemade pasta, Belgium ice cream, cinnamon rolls, herbs, native plants, essential oils and candles plus live music, said organizer Patti Muscaro.

“We have a celebrity vendor too.”

A farm in Floral City makes goat soap and insect repellent. Her soap was selected to be placed in the gift bags presented to celebrities at the “Grammy’s,” the nationally-broadcast music and artists awards show.

Muscaro plans to have themes for some upcoming markets, such as “Business Deals for Dogs,” where there will be dog gifts and items, dogs for adoption.

She also plans, “Bike to the Market,” with biking clubs and bicycle vendors.

Look for a “Kids’ Day” too with face painters and other kids activities.

“It’s an invitation for the community to unite.”

Beverly Hills Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday at 77 Civic Circle Drive.

Spaces are 10-feet by 10-feet and cost $5 but vendors must bring their own tables, said organizer Bonnie Larson. If interested, call (352) 746-2657.

The market includes vendors selling produce, plants, miscellaneous crafts, water soaps and jewelry to name a few. There’s also a hot dog and other food vendors.

The market has been open all summer long and last week Larson said there were about 15 vendors but she expects the crowds and the vendors will increase later in the fall and when the snowbirds return.

“It’s small town, good people who meet and greet and have a good time.”
Crystal River Market Days is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second Saturday off Citrus Avenue on the grounds of Heritage Village in the downtown area.

Spaces are 10-feet by 10-feet and cost $20. To set aside a space, call 352-564-1400.

Organizer Laura Lou Tolle Fitzpatrick said the market has been going for a few years.

The seasonal market has between 20 and 40 vendors. “It depends on what events are going on and the time of the season,” she said.

Vendors offer such items as local produce, plants, pantry items, art and vintage collectibles.

The Shoppes at Heritage Village also offer special sales for Market Days and food tastings.

“We’ve had a good following of artists and crafters who have been with me for years,” Tolle Fitzpatrick said. “Obviously they sell or they wouldn’t be coming back.”

She said on Friday nights before Market Days, the Shoppes have “Art on the Avenue” hosted by three galleries. “A lot of artists participate,” she said.

“(Market Days) gives people the connectivity. They enjoy the artists and pick up their produce.”

West End Market at the Crystal River Mall is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the fourth Saturday at the mall on U.S. Route 19.

Spaces are $20 no matter what size they want. Kids can set up a table for $5. Products must be homemade.

The market is the newest and largest addition to the genre, opening in July. The first month there were 62 vendors. August brought 90 vendors, said mall manager Millie Bresnahan.

“We’re going to top it off at 80,” she said.

Offerings included fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, lots of arts and crafts, jewelry, unique flower pots, basket-weaving, painting, water color and pencil art and lots of woodworking.

“We’re adding a farm swap,” Bresnahan said. “It’s a concept at Tractor Supply in Dunnellon, a swap meet with animals — chickens, pigs, goats.”

They are also offering a section for child entrepreneurs, children who have businesses or want to try selling something that is homemade, Bresnahan said so far there were two child businesses.

Epic Sudz is a couple of girls, one high school and one middle school, who make soap.

“They were trying their skills in salesmanship … it was quite interesting. They gave me their card. It’s a really nice experience, total learning lesson.”

Another group of kids are home-schooled. “They like to make things and sell them,” Bresnahan said. “It’s a neat thing.”

She said the market has also opened up other avenues at the mall, “spin-offs,” she said.

The mall is offering empty space for artists.

“They come in and they do their crafts in front of people.”

She said one artist has been offering classes using the coffee shop at the food court.

The space is named an “Open Workshop,” where they can offer classes or they can sit and do their work. They can come in when they want.”

She said so far the endeavor has been successful.

“It’s been very nice to drive into the parking lot and see if full. People want to see the mall evolve.”

She describes the West End Market as an outdoor market “but inside, with air-conditioning.”

“It works well. Everybody’s happy and the vendors seem to be happy.”