Partners in produce


Sandra "Sam" Williams laughs with customers as they try some of her sweet tangerines at the Starke farmers Market.

Gabriel Lopez/ the Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 9:20 p.m.

On their way to becoming Master Gardeners, a couple of women planted a seed that grew into something unexpected. Sandra "Sam" Williams and Marilyn Dye have grown a farmers market in Starke devoted to locally grown and produced items.

Each Saturday morning, the market opens for business from 8 a.m. until noon on the front lawn of the Bradford County Public Health Department office. Anyone who wants to set up a booth must apply for space and be able to prove that what they are selling came from within 75 miles of the health department.

"We want people to buy local for a lot of reasons," said Dye, who retired from a career as an attorney in Atlanta to start a decorative plant nursery near Keystone Heights.

"First is freshness. Produce from a grocery store may have been picked or harvested two weeks before you buy it and it may have been shipped over 1,500 miles," Dye said. "A lot of farmers selling at a market have picked their crops a day or two before the market. That's a big difference in freshness."

Williams said she has found that shoppers like to get to know the people willing to grow their food, and often stop to ask for suggestions on how to prepare or serve items.

Williams, a co-owner of Cognito Farms, located about 2 1/2 miles from the market, said shoppers have had a lot of interest in her alternative offerings, like heirloom vegetables, grass-fed beef and pastured poultry.

Some of the interest on Saturday morning came from Alan Pehrson, a chef in the process of opening a restaurant in Jacksonville Beach.

"I'd be willing to drive up to two hours to find fresh ingredients that are better than what I can get through a distribution company," Pehrson said. "For me, that would add up to five hours a day probably three days a week and that's worthwhile to get what you want to serve."

In many cases, Williams said, costs at farmers markets are lower because the growers are not dealing with middlemen and shipping costs.

Dye and Williams said they also have been studying economic research on the multiplier effect for the local economy.

When you buy fruits or vegetables at a grocery store, 15 cents of every dollar spent stays in the community, but at a farmers market, 56 cents of every dollar spent stays in the community, Dye said.

Jim DeValerio, the Bradford County agricultural extension agent who was teaching the Master Gardener course where Dye and Williams met, is a regular at the new market.

"My job is to help growers with specifics, not to be an entrepreneur," DeValerio said. "In this case, everything just came together and we now have a way for our growers to market locally."

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or kvoyles@gmail.com.

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