When the Sarasota Farmers Market reopened in August after being canceled for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, roughly 40 of the market's 70 or so vendors participated. During the downtime, some vendors had gone out of business, others were run by people particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, some just didn't feel safe being open to the public again, and some didn't want to comply with the market's new safety rules.
But in the months since, a number of vendors have returned, and a handful of new businesses have joined the market, bringing the total number of vendors up to 67. New vendors include the barbecue stand Herbeque, the organic juice maker Ionie, the dehydrated snack company All Dried Up, Elevation Tea Company, Polpo Pizza Co., O & A Coffee and Supply, the coffee roaster Jimmy's Java and the edible garden company The Gourmet Gardeners. Foot traffic on Saturday mornings may be lighter than normal for the fall, but despite the still-fraught environment for small businesses, the market is growing.
"We tried to not just add new vendors, but to replace products we had lost," says Travis Kinsey, who owns Kinsey's Produce and serves as the board chair for the vendor-run market. "We prioritized filling the gaps."
The market doesn't want to get bigger just for the sake of getting bigger. "You have to grow in a responsible way," says Kinsey.
The farmers' market also has a new leader. Ciera Coleman was hired as manager of the market in October. She replaced longtime manager Phil Pagano, who resigned in the spring shortly after the market ceased operations. She says her top priority is maintaining a safe environment for customers and vendors alike.
"We have been given this gift by the city to be able to be open, and we want to do what we can to honor that," says Coleman. That means requiring all vendors to wear masks and encouraging all customers to do so, too. The market is also spacing out vendors and has installed signage to direct foot traffic.
The market used to offer space for nonprofits to promote themselves each week, but that program has been halted because of the pandemic. Coleman says one of her goals is to bring that back once the threat of Covid-19 has receded. She'd also like to begin allowing food sales through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and Fresh Access Bucks, a program that increases the value of one's SNAP benefits when the money is spent on fruits and vegetables grown in Florida.
"At the heart of it, we are a community organization," says Coleman, "and we work very closely with the city, the brick-and-mortar businesses and organizations like the Downtown Improvement District to utilize this amazing venue we have to better the community."