One Day

A Day in the Life of Sarasota Farmers Market's Phil Pagano

Navigating downtown’s farmer’s market with executive director Phil Pagano.

By Ilene Denton April 26, 2018 Published in the May 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Phil Pagano

Image: Robert Castro

Every Saturday at 3:30 a.m., rain or shine, downtown Sarasota Farmers Market executive director Phil Pagano arrives at Lemon Avenue and Main Street to prepare for a hectic day: calling the police to tow cars blocking streets, helping load in some 80 vendors who start pulling up at 4, making sure his crew of six is putting out recyclable bins and barricades. In 10 years as manager, and before that as a vendor—he sold natural fiber rugs at “one of the coolest booths down there,” he says—Pagano has missed only five Saturdays. He’s there so early, by the time the very last vendors arrive at 6 a.m., he greets them with “Good afternoon.” Thousands of people from across the region attend the farmers market, the area’s largest, every week. His goal, he says: to have fun. 

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Image: Robert Castro

5:15 a.m. “I’m riding around on my electric scooter. I only ride it at the beginning and end of the market, otherwise I bet I walk 10 miles back and forth all day from State Street to First Street.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

6:28 a.m. “This is Isabelle Dunkeson, owner of Good-Gums; she sells all-natural toothpaste substitutes. I greet everybody. Sometimes I have to tell the vendors no hugging, because it takes so long.”

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Image: Robert Castro

7:19 a.m. “I’m sampling the fruit at Kinsey’s Produce. I eat more fruit on Saturdays than any other day of the week.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

8:17 a.m. “My staff and I are talking logistics before they set up the music. When I became full-time manager nine years ago, there was no music, there were no tables and chairs. I saw that it could be better.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

10:42 a.m. “I love the doughnuts, especially the powdered ones. This one is from Five-O Donut Co. I limit myself to one. It’s an ongoing thing—every Saturday, everybody yells, ‘Phil, the doughnuts are here!’ 

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Image: Robert Castro

11:29 a.m. “I’m talking to Sarah Lauerman’s daughters at her Buddha Belly booth. Sarah gives food-tasting demonstrations for kids. She’s trying to get them in tune with eating more vegetables.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

1:09 p.m. “We start breaking down the booths between 1 and 1:15. Then I make one last sweep on my scooter to make sure everything’s safe before we open up the streets to vehicles.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

2:30 p.m. “This is me and our IT guy, Martin Howard. People don’t know how much goes into a big event like this. We have almost 80 vendors—about 8,000 square feet of produce and agriculture products alone. Plus there’s all the accounting and marketing.” 

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Image: Robert Castro

7 p.m. “I’m having dinner with my wife, Heidi, at Salute! We don’t do it all the time because I usually have jet lag after a long Saturday. I wait until Monday morning to think about the market all over again.”

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