By Cathy Wharton
For Hometown News
If there's one common thread that can bring people together it's food -- and lots of it.
Whether it's a bake-off, a chili contest or an all-you-can-eat fish fry, talk "food" and the crowds will come. Such is the case with the long-lived Farmers' Market in downtown Daytona Beach, a staple in the community.
Every Saturday morning at 7 a.m., about 35 produce suppliers and other vendors gather at City Island to set up their displays. And shoppers can count on the fact that the vendors will be there. Daytona Beach Redevelopment Project Manager Jason Jefferies said, "We never miss a Saturday. We never cancel -- rain or shine."
Since 1978, the city has hosted the Downtown Farmers' Market -- possibly the oldest continuous produce-selling market in Florida. Its success and longevity are undoubtedly due to the consistent quality of what the vendors offer -- fresh-from-the-source fruits and vegetables, mostly Florida-grown.
The market's manager, Noeleen Foster, has been in charge since August 2012. "I love what I'm doing," she said. "I feel very fortunate."
Previously with the New Smyrna Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, Ms. Foster enjoys meeting the people who come to the market. She's also gotten to know the vendors. "They've worked together for many years -- the same vendors. They've formed their own network," she said.
Among the regular vendors are the Willoughbys from Deland who have 25 years experience selling home-grown produce; a brother and sister team who sell homemade jams, jellies and preserves -- a business that was started by their Mom; and two industrious ladies from Gainesville who offer home-seasoned barbequed pork and beef -- smoking it all the way to Daytona. There are many other long-time vendors as well, who have made City Island their Saturday home for years.
A short tour of the market shows an abundance of eye-appealing displays, each loaded with fresh, mouth-watering produce. Items such as tomatoes, eggplant, squash and zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, peppers -- red, yellow and green, melons, bananas and pineapples. There also are leafy greens, such as lettuce, kale and collards, plus a variety of root vegetables and, of course, citrus of every description.
Root veggies, such as potatoes and onions, usually come from points north. Among the most popular are Vidalia onions from Georgia, more commonly available during the spring. Also available in the spring and summer are new crops of fresh juicy peaches from Georgia and South Carolina.
Florida citrus, particularly oranges and grapefruit, is a main-stay. But these crops, including smaller fruits such as lemons and limes, are sensitive to temperature changes, especially severe cold. In order to ensure a variety of citrus products, some wholesalers have partnered with growers in a "co-op" (neighbors helping neighbors), thus working together to provide a steady supply of Florida-grown citrus year-round. Strawberries, another perennial favorite, also are sensitive to weather extremes. The season for marketing the popular berries is relatively short, usually peaking in February and March.
The Downtown Farmers' Market features other foods as well, including homemade pastries, baked goods, boxed foods, nuts, seeds, herbs and seafood. There also is a fully-equipped food wagon for those in need of a quick snack or cold drink.
Non-food items also are part of the mix, including handcrafted jewelry, wood products and various types of plants. But as Ms. Foster pointed out, "this is not a flea market. If it's a good fit, they stay."
The vendor's wares must fit with the overall theme of the market. Generally the ratio is 70 percent produce/food products, 20 percent plants and 10 percent arts and crafts.
Another "friendly feature" of the Downtown Farmers' Market is that dogs (on leashes) are always welcome. "We're pet-friendly," Ms. Foster said.
On one occasion a customer even brought his cat -- on a leash, of course.
The Downtown Farmers' Market couldn't have a more ideal location than City Island -- just off the Orange Avenue Bridge and one block south of International Speedway Boulevard. The market is easily found in a large parking area between the library and Jackie Robinson Stadium. Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday.
"We should be really proud of this market," Ms. Foster said.
Contact Downtown Farmers' Market at (386) 671-8189 or email email@example.com.