Bradenton Farmers’ Market Blends Tradition and Innovation
WORDS BY KATE WIGHT
PHOTOS BY ANGELA JENKINS
Over the past few years, downtown Bradenton has been quietly going through a renaissance.
Historic buildings like the Pink Palace have found new life through renovations that bring them into the modern era while still maintaining the historical elements that make them special and unique. The Riverwalk has transformed the shoreline of the Manatee River into a functionally designed community gathering space full of public art, beautifully integrated natural components, family-friendly gathering spots, and entertainment venues including a pavilion and an amphitheater.
And at the center of everything is fantastic local food, thanks in large part to the hidden gem that is the Downtown Bradenton Farmers’ Market.
Though the Bradenton Farmers’ Market has been around off and on for almost 30 years, it has recently gone through a rebirth of its own. This year John Matthews of the Suncoast Food Alliance (an endeavor dedicated to meeting the demand for locally grown products) and Realize Bradenton (a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and promoting the culture of the downtown area) have joined forces to bring this wellloved market to a whole new level. In a way their efforts mirror the changing downtown area: They are preserving beloved traditions while bringing modern twists with multi-generational appeal.
The Bradenton Farmers’ Market currently features about 40 vendors, though that number is growing by the week. People like the folks at Sheppard Farms, who have served homegrown produce like okra and hand-shelled peas at the market for 17 years embody the venue’s proud history, while newer growers like urban farmer Michelle Silva at Passion for Produce represent the ever-evolving innovation found in the sustainable food scene.
The market has strict guidelines for its farmers: They must produce 60 percent of what is displayed in their booth, and any other wares must be sourced from area growers within 50 miles of the vendor’s own farm. All vendors must be able to identify not only the product they sell, but also the farming practices used and the date of harvest.
This level of scrutiny is not meant to discourage potential vendors; it’s merely about ensuring that the produce found at the market is of the highest possible quality, and promoting and strengthening the economy both locally and in the surrounding rural areas. In fact, the minds behind the Downtown Bradenton Farmers’ Market pride themselves on being all-inclusive: They welcome vendors to set up for just one week if they have only a limited-quantity product or if they want to test the waters before committing to the season. They also work carefully to ensure that they have a wide diversity of vendors in order to provide a full and well-rounded experience.
Most of what you’ll find at the market is fresh, local produce. While there are some pre-prepared foods and goods for sale including traditional pastries from Old Heidelberg Bakery and zesty condiments from OMG Sanchez Sauces, the powers that be shy away from having too much in the ready-to-go food department. They prefer to point their customers in the direction of the acclaimed, locally owned restaurants in the area like Havana Cabana, Pier 22, and Soma Creek Side. In fact, many of the chefs from these restaurants get produce for their businesses at the market and perform special cooking demos for shoppers on the weekends featuring fresh produce.
If you’re worried that the rainbow of fruits and veggies on display won’t be enough to keep your family entertained, don’t worry: There’s plenty going on to dazzle all the generations. Most Saturdays, Spaghetti the Clown is holding court and entertaining the kids, while parents enjoy live music by an impressive lineup of musical guests (including past American Idol contestants). But ultimately, the organizers really want it to be all about the food. After all, it’s what binds us all together throughout history and across generations.
The Bradenton Farmer’s Market is open seasonally. This year it opened on October 5 and will continue through May 31, 2014. You can find it every Saturday 9am—2pm on Old Main Street in Downtown Bradenton. Visit realizebradenton.com for more information and to see scheduled events.
Bradenton Farmers’ Market: Old Main St(12th St W), Bradenton; realizebradenton.com