Earlier this week, Shannon Burns-DeMilt took down the $4,000 worth of I.O.U.s taped to the wall of Aunt Martha’s Produce Market in Floral City.

She also started giving away produce in the bins and selling what she could, including the coolers.

After 16 years, Burns-DeMilt recently made the difficult decision to sell the business named for her late mother, Martha Burns, who died this past March.

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“It was a perfect storm ... and the universe telling me it’s time to move on,” Burns-DeMilt said. “When Mom died, everything we had went into probate — she didn’t have a will. We thought we had everything taken care of at the bank, but we did not.

“The last thing I wanted to do was close my mother’s market, especially after losing her,” she said.

So, Burns-DeMilt tried to make it work, but kept hitting roadblocks and pitfalls.

“People thought I was joking, but I was close to either being homeless or living in the back of the produce market; it really was that bad,” she said. “It came at the worst time of the year, not to mention the state of our economy and country being in shambles.”

She said she had to do some juggling to pay the bills, but kept getting further behind.

Through it all, Burns-DeMilt is living with the terminal autoimmune disease, scleroderma.

“Had things been different we might’ve been able to make it work,” she said. “We’ve had an amazing turnout from the community and from friends who have helped with our personal bills and stuff, as well as helping with the stand to keep it going as long as it has, and I can’t even begin to express the gratitude I have.

“But we’ve been hemorrhaging,” she said. “I’d wake up with my shoulders hunched over — I’m 50 years old, and I know Mom wouldn’t want us to be miserable. She certainly wouldn’t want me to be homeless.

“And I would rather have Aunt Martha’s Produce Market rest in peace with my mom and leave it on a good note,” she said. “I didn’t want the economy to get so bad that we’d run the business into the ground. That’s the last thing I want to do.”

Burns-DeMilt said the 16 years in business have served a purpose.

They opened the market after she got a DUI at the end of 2005 and lost her driver’s license. Around the same time, her mother retired from a long career at Ferris Groves and needed something to do.

“This place helped me get sober,” she said. “I could walk to work, and it helped Mom transition. My girls had jobs here, we got to go on vacations, the girls got braces, and we all lived a really good life. Now it’s time to move on.”

Although Aunt Martha’s Produce Market is no more, Burns-DeMilt and her 24-year-old daughter, Madison DeMilt, are launching Aunt Martha’s Produce Market Jr., a wholesale delivery service to local restaurants, scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

They also hope to add retail delivery to people’s homes, delivering produce and eventually meats, eggs and the Amish foods that have been popular at the market over the years.

How this will work: They will send out a text announcing what’s available for the week, people will put in their orders, and once a week Burns-DeMilt and her daughter will leave super early in the morning to go to Plant City to pick everything up for delivery the next day.

And since they’ll only be working a few days a week, that leaves time for other things.

Burns-DeMilt, who loves history and once hosted a TV series on WYKE, “Floral City: The Real ‘Old Florida,” said she wants to do more "history stuff" like walking tours and talks, and Jeep tours in the woods.”

“Now that the gray cloud over our heads is lifted, we know we’re going to be OK. We’re going to survive. And if it doesn’t work out, Madison and I are going to take off and go on the road and stay in campgrounds along the way," she said.

“I’m never going to have my mom back, but she still lets me know when I make the right or wrong decision,” Burns-DeMilt said, “and I think she’s telling me this one’s right.”

Marcia Beasley, longtime Floral City resident and local historian, said for the past 16 years Aunt Martha’s has been the go-to place for community information, the “hub and gathering place, especially since she (Martha) lived here and had worked at Ferris' Farm store for 27 years.

“Of course, her daughter, Shannon, was the icing on the community ‘info’ cake,” Beasley said. “She knows everything that is happening as well as a good contact for our history. And she has so generously shared that information on her TV program and on tours she has given in the past.

“I really am not sure how we, Floral City, can get along without a little market,” she said. “We need the fresh produce, and we need communication.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com. Read more of Nancy's stories at tinyurl.com/yxt69grh