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Sanibel Farmers Market to open Sunday
September 27, 2017

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Sunday marks the opening day of Local Roots Farmers Markets 10th season with the Sanibel Island Farmers Market.

The popular Sanibel Island Farmers Market started a decade ago at Tahitian Gardens with a dozen vendors. Since then they have moved to City Hall every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 1, through May 27.

"It's a growing business," Local Roots, LLC Co-Owner Betsy Ventura said.

Local Roots, LLC owner Jean Baer said some of their vendors have stayed with them for the 10 years, including Dancing Dragonfly Soap, Jan's Produce, Gallagos and Paradise Soap.

This year some new vendors will be added to the lineup, as well as some old favorites, such as Pickles who will be returning to the market. Approximately 40 vendors make up the Sanibel Island Farmers Market.

Ventura said a few of their farmers will be delaying their start at the market, or have less to offer due to the impacts they felt from Hurricane Irma.

"Everything that they have planted has to be replanted. We talked to one farmer today and she hasn't been able to get into her fields yet and that is in Venice, Florida," she said. "It breaks our heart."

Baer said Hurricane Irma will most likely have long-range consequences. She said the orange crop probably will not be as strong the first pick, as well as the tomatoes.

"We need to get out there and support our vendors in different ways than we have in the past," Baer said. "Even if they are not a farmer, they may have had tragedy to their homes. A lot of our vendors come from the Naples, and Bonita area."

Ventura said Maverick Meats has a butcher shop in Lehigh, which was without power and had roof damage. She said they lost all of their product and has to start over.

"We are going to have a good showing. The bright side of it is we have a lot of vendors that are ready to get back to work," Baer said. "Hopefully as a community we can embrace that and get out there and support these people."

This year, the duo added a market at South Seas Island Resort every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 19 through April 3. The market will feature 20 vendors.

"South Seas approached us back in February of this past year. They were interested in us coming and doing a Farmer's Market for them," Ventura said. "It will be before the guard gate, so it will be open to the public."

Baer said it will be a little different than Sanibel's market. She said part of the market will have a craft component, as well as different vendors that customers do not see on Sanibel.

"One of the vendors that will be different that people will be excited about is Farmer Mike's, who is a farmer out of Bonita Springs. He originally started with us on Sanibel and had a hard time getting workers on Sundays," Ventura said. "He is excited and will be joining us on Captiva on Tuesdays."

Another addition this year, is the Fort Myers Beach Farm & Art Market on Tuesdays, starting in November.

"That's an existing market that has been going on on Fort Myers Beach, but we are relocating it to the Nervous Nellie's parking lot," Baer said. "We are taking over as the new market managers. That is a farm and art market because it has a big craft component. It is probably 50 percent food and 50 perfect craft."

In celebration of their 10th anniversary, the ladies received exciting news for this upcoming season regarding becoming the first Farmers Market in the nation to be recognized as a Blue Zone certified market, as well as being authorized to be a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provider at two of their markets.

Baer said to become Blue Zone certified there are certain things that they as a company had to embrace.

"What was exciting was most of that was already being done on Sanibel. We would like to encourage people to create a smoke free environment, bike to market, walk to the market as much as possible. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Visit with your friends. Those are all things they talk about Blue Zone element leads to a healthier and longer life," Baer said.

Pets also help individuals live a healthier, longer life, and with the markets being dog friendly it also applies to the Blue Zone element.

Ventura said the second exciting aspect of their 10th season is being authorized to offer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a government program, at the Sanibel Farmers Market and Lakes Park Farmers Market.

"We want to do it because we know it is the right thing to do," she said. "Especially now after this hurricane. It is really important that we try to help as many people as we can to eat healthier and have access to fresh foods."

The program will be rolled out before the end of the season.

"Florida has another program called FOG, which we have been accepted for. Between the two of them we will be able to have customers that need it to come to the market and swipe their cards," Ventura said.

Baer said the customers will receive a two for one deal, as part of a grant through the state of Florida.

"So if you swipe your card for $20, you can get $40 worth of fresh produce. It is an initiative by the Florida Department of Agriculture to encourage lower income individuals to eat healthier. It has had a major impact on the farming industry in the state of Florida. They have quoted a bunch of people saying they are feeding their family much healthier and making healthier choices because they are able to buy two for one on the program," she said.

The Sanibel Island Farmers Market will continue to be a drop off location for F.I.S.H. Ventura said their produce and bread vendors will continue, as they have for the past 10 years, donate what they do not sell at the weekly market to F.I.S.H.

This year customers are asked to be patient with parking because the Sanibel Public Library is undergoing a renovation.

"There is not as much parking at the library initially. Again, all the more reason to ride your bike, or walk if you can," Baer said. "We have plenty of bicycle racks."

Baer encourages everyone who shops at the Farmers Market to try something new.

"If you see a new vendor, try it," she said.

Ventura said to talk to the vendors.

"That's what is so special about being in a Farmers Market. You are buying from the person who is either growing it, or making it. You can't get that anywhere else. You are talking to the person. You can find out what ingredients are in it, or what he put in his soil, or how he likes to cook it," she said.

This year, Local Roots Farmers Market is working with a new ad company, NOISE.

"We have hired a local Sanibel business to help us with promotion. We are really trying to do as much as we can because we believe so much in helping these vendors get back in business and on their feet," Ventura said.

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Regular Size Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander