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Farmers' Markets Are Growing In The Panhandle

On a warm autumn morning in downtown Pensacola, hundreds of people are walking up and down Palafox Street, shopping at one of the city’s signature weekly events: The Palafox Market. The String Farm Band is one of many musical acts that line the street creating a soundtrack to the market with its fresh produce and handmade artwork for sale. The market is now eight years old and has tripled in size since its beginning.

"At our market everything is handmade, homemade, or home grown," says Teresa Duffy, the manager of Palafox Market. She says making sure the food sold at the market is locally grown makes the market unique. "All of our vendors have to live within one hundred miles of Pensacola. And so everyone is local and I've been to all of their farms to make sure that everything that they are selling here is what they grow."

Duffy says there are currently 125 vendors at the market, with a waiting list of others trying to get in. She says it’s taken time for the market grow and catch on and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Several other farmers markets have been popping up in communities around the region.

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
The String Farm Band performs at the Palafox Market

Daniel Dugan has been selling his hand made dog biscuits at the Palafox Market for years. Earlier this year he worked to start the Market in the Breeze, a farmers market every Tuesday afternoon in Gulf Breeze. "They've been wanting that market (in Gulf Breeze) for three years." Dugan, who also operated a pair of farmers market on Pensacola Beach this summer says the Gulf Breeze market is not trying to compete with Palafox or any other markets in the area. He says that by Tuesday afternoon, you may be running out of goodies you bought on Saturday at Palafox. He calls it a "refresher market". Dugan also thinks the growth of farmers markets illustrates the growth of the eat local movement. "Northwest Florida, when I was growing up, was self sustainable. We didn't need Wal Mart (or) any of these big box retailers...we took care of ourselves here. Well we've gotten away from that and we need to get back to it."

Carl Stewart of Stewart Farms has been selling fresh produce at the Palafox Market for seven years. He says he knows the type of customer who comes to the market. "I grow whatever's in season for this area. (We see) people who are looking for good, fresh vegetables, local vegetables. " 

And while the vendors offer lots of healthy foods, that’s not always a priority for everyone. "It depends, sometimes I go for the sweets and sometimes I buy vegetables and fruit." Phyllis lives out on Pensacola Beach and comes to the market almost every weekend.  On the other hand, Candice is visiting from Lafayette, Louisiana and was shopping the market for the first time. "We're actually here for a wedding and saw it on the Pensacola downtown home page. Saw it last night and we just came out." She and her companions were laden with bags filled with food.

Fresh, local food is still the main attraction of the Palafox Market, and most farmers markets in the area. Tommy Van Horne from the East Hill Honey Company says the fresh choices attract a wide variety of people. "We get all sorts of people here. A lot of everyday families looking for good, wholesome, nutritious food. Then we have the food connoisseurs and the foodie group . People who are just curious to see what Pensacola has to offer."

The Palafox Market runs every Saturday on Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola from 9am to 2pm. The Market in the Breeze operates every Tuesday on Shoreline Drive in Gulf Breeze from 4 to 9pm. The Pensacola Beach farmers markets are on hiatus now pending negotiations with Santa Rosa Island officials. There are also farmers markets operating in Pace, Crestview, Destin and Perdido Key and many other communities on the western Panhandle. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.