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Why you should stop haggling at Florida's farmers markets

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For nearly two decades, the sights, sounds and smells of the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market have been a fixture in downtown St. Pete. Thousands of market-goers browse the stalls, in search of the perfect heirloom tomato or that special handmade gift. Bands play, dogs bark and children laugh. The scents of fruit, flowers and freshly brewed coffee fill the air.

Then of course, there are the tastes of the market. Farmers showcase fresh produce, eggs and local honey. Hot food vendors sell everything from barbecue to tamales to Ethiopian dishes.

And there in the thick of it is Gail Eggeman. You could say she’s part ringmaster, part proud mama bear.

Gail and a small group of volunteers started the market back in 1996.

“We thought it would be a perfect place to have a market in Williams Park,” says Gail, the market’s longtime director. That first market closed down after a year due to issues with the city. But in 2002, the group tried again.

“We sat down and we talked about what we wanted in a market, and it was all about community,” Gail says.

And boy, did the community respond. Every year, thousands of Floridians and visitors descend upon the parking lot at the corner of First Avenue South and First Street for the weekly market.

In winter, at the height of Florida’s growing season, the market sees between 10,000 and 12,000 guests on a given Saturday. Between 125 and 135 vendors sell at the market each week. (In summertime, a scaled-down version of the market moves back to Williams Park, which offers more shade.)

As the market heads into its 20th consecutive season, Gail spoke with The Zest about how to be a good farmers market shopper (hint: don’t haggle), the importance of food equity and her passion for the slow food movement.

“All those farmers who farm sustainably and regeneratively, they are food heroes,” she says.

Some of Gail Eggeman’s food heroes:

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Dalia Colon