Dining al fresco at Marie Laforge and Ricardo Ruggiero’s home on a summer evening in 2011, the conversation turned to why we had to drive so far from Englewood to attend a local farmers market. In a matter of weeks, the dialogue evolved quickly to a plan to begin a farmers market in Englewood. Meetings took place, a location was secured, folks fanned out to local markets to recruit vendors, a site plan was laid out, the Friends of Sarasota County Parks, our non-profit parent adopted us, an operations team was established, and Sarasota County approved our permit to begin. We had an entire budget of only $1,000.00 to get started. Yikes!
Fast forward to November 3, 2011. Marie and Ricardo, who own the locally famous Mango Bistro, Lee Perron, Mike Hutchinson and Don Musilli launched the Englewood Farmers Market. The opening day was nerve wracking, as we had no idea if anyone would come to shop with our modest size market of seventeen vendors. However, 1,500 showed up to share the love that very first day and the vendors were surprised at the level of support that came from the Englewood community on day one. Ninety days later, we had 30 vendors and 3,000 per week in attendance. We ended our first season with 43 vendors and a total attendance of 70,000. And we made our first donations back to the community.
We just completed our eighth season for the EFM with 60 vendors and 185,000 in attendance. During the high season, we now experience 8,000 per week shopping at our market. An economic impact study performed by Dr. Kluson with the University of Florida concluded that the market was a four million dollar plus financial engine that was creating a renaissance in historic downtown Englewood.
As the market has grown, so has our commitment as a non-profit to donate back to other organizations that contribute to improving the quality of life for our community. Helping Hand and St. David’s food banks, the Englewood Community Care Clinic, New Paradigm, Englewood Elementary School, and local parks are all our giving partners. This year we crossed an important milestone of passing the $100,000 mark in donations.
Another pillar of our mission is to address food insecurity in our community. In 2014, the EFM was approved as a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retail location by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accept what has been known in the past as food stamps. We were also fortunate to receive grant funds from Florida farmers that allow us to double the dollars issued to SNAP participants to allow them greater purchasing power for farm fresh fruits and vegetables. This is known as the Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) program. Since inception, we have distributed over $45,000 in matching dollars to participants in the Englewood community. Check us out at www.englewoodfarmersmarket.org
The Englewood market operating team has just completed two years in their latest mission. In July of 2017, we were awarded the contract to operate the City of Venice farmers market (VFM). We have launched the same philosophy of operating a non-profit market that gives back its proceeds after operating expenses to the local Venice community. Find us at www.thevenicefarmersmarket.org
And here we are! We are now poised to begin our next big adventure with one of the most iconic brands in Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves! We have the same mission, the same passion, and the same game plan to offer you the best quality food and agriculture vendors in the region. So plan to join us at Cool Today Park, the Spring Training Home of the Atlanta Braves and shop with our ABFM All Stars!