By Erika Webb
It could have been the unseasonably bearable weather. It could be an effective grapevine spreading the word. But fact is the Barberville Family Farm Swap & Market had a record week, its largest market ever with 78 sellers the last weekend in May.
The Farm Swap & Market was established in September 2008 to bring community farmers together to celebrate agriculture. The idea was to provide an open agricultural marketplace for the public to meet the farmers face to face, buy their goods and discover how agriculture plays an important role in the local community and in daily life.
"Farmer Guy" Lloyd Flanagan said he was talking with a woman one day at the market. She expressed delight over the $14 per pound pork chops she bought from a whole foods store. When Mr. Flanagan asked her a few questions, she was stymied.
He asked her where the livestock was raised, what it was fed, if the chops had been frozen. She didn't know the answers, just trusted the label which read "organic," Mr. Flanagan said.
"That poor little pork chop you don't know nothin' about was probably trucked 2,000 miles in some diesel smog burning tractor trailer," Mr. Flanagan said, chuckling.
That's just one argument of many in favor of taking a trip up U.S. 17, turning left onto State Road 40 and pulling into the fenced area -- via Lemmon Road -- adjacent to the Barberville Pioneer Arts Settlement every first and third Saturday of the month.
Mr. Flanagan said the market just keeps on growing. In more than four years, there has never been a charge for vendors and there has never been a salaried staff.
"I've always said if the community wants it, they'll support it," Mr. Flanagan said.
Through donations accepted next to the big American flag, the "true open air farmers market" he envisioned continues to sustain.
But the growing market means growing expenses, so he's looking for corporate sponsors. Those who participate will be invited to advertise on a banner at the market, and for $40 monthly business cards are displayed on the farm swap website at farmswapmarket.com. The website gets more than 1,000 hits weekly, he said.
The market's Facebook page is a steady stream of entertaining exchanges about goods, services, animals and rural happenings -- a virtual general store where folks gather to shoot the breeze, and the bull, about daily life in the farming community -- a refreshing break.
At each market, one or two spaces are donated to community groups -- FFA, 4-H, church groups and the Volusia County Schools' migrant outreach.
"We let people know about the services that are out there," Mr. Flanagan said.
Describing himself as a "beach kinda person turned country kinda person," Mr. Flanagan grew up in Ormond Beach. He delivered newspapers, got into the Daytona 500 for 50 cents, had quite the Captain's Wafer Cracker caper going -- in his favor -- with Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. as a teenager working at Billy's Tap Room & Grill.
He'll tell you all about it at the market.
But you'll have to catch him when you can. He rings the cow bell, or has one of the kids do it, to announce the raffle winners. He commentates via megaphone, a market cheerleader of sorts.
Vendors and local businesses donate all manner of goods and services, and Mr. Flanagan said the kids always come running when they hear the bell because they know they're likely to win something.
"It's just great family fun," he said.
He gives promotional advice to vendors, encouraging them to market themselves, bring attention to their booth or area, get their signage up.
"It's my responsibility to make sure they have a good farmers market," he said.
Sometimes he's a moderator and arbitrator. Generally, he keeps the original concept on track.
"I don't want a corporate farmers market and I don't want government funds," he said. "Ours is very simple. You show up at 8 a.m. and you sell."
Flea market "stuff" is not allowed, but anything agriculture-related is OK.
"We have a 90-plus year old man from DeLeon Springs who sells lawn mowers," Mr. Flanagan said. "He's there every week in his big old Cadillac or Buick selling those mowers."
There are two food vendors -- one with American fare and a "true, true authentic taco stand guy."
"These are real tacos," he said.
Groups of men, inherently geared to gathering for story swapping, meet to grab a hot dog or taco, and talk while they people and animal watch.
Market goers are surprised when they come out and see just about every type of farm animal imaginable -- from birds to cows, he said. He also listed turkeys, rabbits, ducks, chickens, pheasant, pigs, sheep, llamas and Coggins-tested horses.
"There was an alpaca out there last Saturday, walking on a leash like a dog," Mr. Flanagan said.
There is a rapidly growing livestock-free zone featuring hydroponic and/or organic produce, tilapia, catfish, crabs, baked goods, plants and shrubs from local nurseries, crafts and local honey.
"These are your true farmers and ranchers, not the ones that pull up in a huge truck with a forklift and unload the produce they bought from the state farmers market, then put it in cute little baskets," Mr. Flanagan said. "We are about the local farmer, your neighbor that picked that stuff from the garden the night before."
He said the market's tilapia farmer raises the fish five miles from the market. And the "crab and catfish guy" harvests from the St. Johns River the night before market day.
"You can't get fresher than that," Mr. Flanagan said. "We want people to know where their food comes from."
Recently, he said, a farmer sold 60 dozen free-range eggs in one day.
It's hard to say how many attendees visit the market each first and third Saturday; 400 to 500 would be a conservative estimate, Mr. Flanagan said.
In four plus years, it has never been rained out. Only twice, he said, it rained enough to slow things down.
Mike Malloy of Mike's Home Grown Farm has been selling at the market from the beginning. He grows all of his produce hydroponically without the use of pesticides.
"One of the best things about the market is it's free entry for customers and free, with no setup fee for vendors," Mr. Malloy said. "There's no other place you can go and get produce, live farm animals and farm equipment. It's a true, genuine open air farmers market."
His comments indicate Mr. Flanagan's goal is being achieved. But feel free to stop and ask him yourself at the next Barberville Family Farm Swap and Market on July 6.
"Know your farmer," Mr. Flanagan said. "Shake his hand and ask him how he raised that food."