Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Baer, Ventura gearing up for launch of new season with Farmers Market

The weather is growing cooler by the day, it seems, and people on the islands are looking for more outdoor activities to take part in.

One of the most popular weekly gatherings to debut in the past year, the Sanibel Island Farmers Market, is returning for its sophomore season. Its two founders, Jean Baer and Betsy Ventura, are eager to spread the word and let everyone know that the market is returning soon, bigger and better than ever!

Island Reporter (IR): Tell our readers how the Sanibel Island Farmers Market was created, growing from dream to reality.

Betsy Ventura (BV): I'm crazy about farmers markets! I grew up in a small town in Virginia that hosts the third oldest farmers market in the country, founded in 1783. We always ate fresh local vegetables bought from there or grown on our own farm. When I go on vacation, my husband and I visit the area's farmers market. I've been to farmers markets in Africa, Mexico, Central America, Europe, South America as well as towns across the United States. You can really learn a lot about a community at local markets.

Naturally, it's been a dream throughout the 26 years I have lived on Sanibel and Captiva to have a local farmers market. Finally, about two years ago, I decided to get the ball rolling. I went to Jean Baer, knowing she was the perfect person to help me organize a successful market. From that day on, we have been working together managing the market. We have a great relationship: we both work hard, we always follow through, have similar visions of the market, and we both have a mutual respect for each other.

And I must mention that the market would not be as successful as it is, without the help each Sunday of our husbands, Denny Baer and Marcel Ventura, and my mother, Sherrill Sims.

IR: What were some of your most difficult challenges in launching the market?

Jean Baer (JB): Since day one, our most difficult challenge has been location, location, location. RLR Investments, LLC and the staff of Barb Harrington and Lisa Bramm helped us to launch our first season. We quickly outgrew room for vendors and parking. With the help of the City of Sanibel, we have jumped this hurdle and will continue to be located at City Hall. We have some great green space and plenty of room for parking at BIG Arts and the Sanibel Public Library.

IR: Were you surprised that the popularity of the market continued to grow, week after week?

BV: You never know how people will react to something new. I remember the first Sunday, Jean and I were so worried that no one would come and the vendors would have to take home everything they brought over. By the end of the first few Sundays, the vendors were all so pleased, after doubling and tripling the quantities they would bring each week and still selling out.

I remember one vendor almost in tears saying she had two customers that gave her more money than what she was charging for her plants because she was "not charging enough" for her work. It is so gratifying to see the hard work of these individuals being appreciated by the guests and residents of Sanibel. It warms our heart because many of our vendors participate in farmers markets to support their family.

IR: What comments have your heard from your customers that make you proud?

JB: I am proud on so many different levels. When I see a local restaurant coming by the market to buy freshly grown produce to then use in their recipes it really brings full circle the movement to strengthening the local economy and supporting our Florida farmers.

It is also so gratifying to hear the local residents comment on how much fun they have each Sunday morning catching up with friends and buying new and different products. Both Betsy and I have been told by visitors that attending the Sanibel Island Farmers Market was one of the highlights of their trip. How great is that?

IR: What are the most popular items sold at the market?
BV: Without a doubt, Worden Farm is the most popular vendor. They are a local organic farm from Punta Gorda. There produce is top notch and from the time the market opens to when everyone is packing up, there is always a line in front of their tent.
Other items that seem to be a hit are the lasagna from The Sauce Lady, fresh bagels, the jams and jellies that are made from fruits grown on Pine Island, stone crabs (always caught the day before), the artisanal cheeses from The Big Cheese and 55 Degrees Cheese... I could go on and on.

Of course, Jean and I really try to balance our vendors so that there are a variety of choices for the customers while providing an environment where the vendor can also be successful. We truly hope that we have accomplished this goal.

IR: What will be new at the market this season?

JB: Some new items at the market this year will be BBQ Ribs smoked right on site, freshly baked pies, orchids, donuts from Sanibel Deli, fresh coffee from Poco Loco, and one that we are especially excited about — Pete’s fresh mozzarella.

BV: Local resident, Arlene Dillon, recommended the mozzarella to us last year after buying it at a market in Bonita Springs. We both met up with Pete's Mozzarella and had a sample... and boy, was Arlene right. It is the best mozzarella we have ever had. Yum!

IR: When does the market start, where will it be located, and what are the hours of operation?

BV: We start Nov. 7 and run each Sunday through April. The market will continue to be located at City Hall on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. There is plenty of parking at the front two parking lots of City Hall, the Sanibel Public Library and BIG Arts but we do encourage people to "go green" and bike to the market.

IR: What are you most looking forward to this season?

JB: I am looking forward to the positive energy that we feel each Sunday at the market. At a time when so many are struggling to keep their spirits up, it is good to know that wonderful things are still happening in communities across America and that neighbors are helping neighbors. Being in a permanent location that seems to work best for the residents, visitors, city officials and local businesses is sure to be an added bonus!

IR: If somebody would like to become a vendor at the market, how can they do that?

BV: Right now, due to space limitations, we have a wait to become a vendor. We may have spaces open up later in the season, so contact either Jean Baer (Jmbaer@comcast.net) or Betsy Ventura (Jenningssims@aol.com) so we can discuss the details. Keep in mind that we are a market that offers products that are grown or produced locally. We do not offer arts and crafts.

IR: If you were speaking to somebody who has never been to the market, what would you say to them that would encourage them to attend?

JB: It is hard to explain, but the energy at the market is amazing and something I hope everyone in the area can experience. Everyone is shopping for healthy local foods and goods grown in the area. It is a wonderful event that draws people — and pets! — of all ages, week after week.

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