By Judie Mackie
Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the Fernandina Beach Market Place farmers market. Being open every Saturday, for 10 years, really embeds you into the community and you become friends — no, you become family — and we have a reunion each week from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in 2012, the previous owner moved the farmers market to the Amelia Island Plantation. Drs. Joe and Elizabeth Lee quickly stepped up and secured the franchise agreement with the city to operate the marketplace.
The very next Saturday, the marketplace opened on Seventh Street with 10 booths and a musician. The support from customers was so strong, every vendor sold out that first day.
We are open year ’round, including days of freezing rain and blistering heat. We’ve set up tents around cars left on the street from the night before, or huge piles of debris after a tropical storm. We’ve seen people walk a chicken on a leash through the market, and we had to enlist the help of the Fernandina Beach Police Department when a young goat broke free from its pen. Yes, a BOLO, or “be on the lookout” went out over the radio for a brown goat wearing a blue sweater. Only in Fernandina! Fernandina’s finest returned the goat to its owner within 45 minutes.
We have vetted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vendor applications. We’ve provided support to overheated customers, and broken up arguments and fights among others. We’ve defended Charlie’s right to free speech when he stands proudly at the entrance to the market with a “Jesus” sign in his hands, we’ve chased down vehicles whose operators thought it was okay to drive through a sea of pedestrians, and we have even had our own farmers market song composed for us by musician Smokey Cole.
Here is what some of the vendors say:
Poppin Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn is one of the newest vendors, but Joe says the market has made a significant difference in his business startup and outreach. “It is also nice to hear they missed us on days we were unable to attend. We have been very thankful for the flexibility of the market management and appreciate the many ways they help promote and support the vendors.”
Dave Doroshow of Dave’s Rub A Dub Dub says,”We’re in our 3rd year at the market and LOVE IT! We have been doing Saturday markets in the area for almost 10 years and were very satisfied with the market we’d always done on Saturdays. One weekend that market was canceled so we came up to check out the Fernandina Beach market. Both my wife, Jeanne, and I were blown away. The crowds, the diversity of vendors and the location right in downtown was amazing. A few weeks later we were a vendor. The market is well run, my vendor neighbors are great and we have fun.”
Greg McKinley with Sea Shore Terrariums said, “I am thrilled to be part of an outstanding marketplace. My fellow vendors are like family, very friendly, kind and great to be around. More importantly are the crowds of folks who visit the marketplace every week. They know they can find fresh, homegrown foods of all kinds and fascinating décor.”
The owner of King of All Guacamoles told us, “For the last three years, I have been part of the Fernandina Beach Market. It is always a family atmosphere with great managers, vendors, products and customers who have made this a dream farmers market for everyone. We will be there on the 10th anniversary to celebrate with everyone, to celebrate a great day, and we plan to be there for the next 10 years. We love the Fernandina beach market!”
Eddie and Debbie Chesser, of Chesser Seafood, have been in the market for almost nine years. “We consider customers and other vendors like family,” Debbie said, “In fact, some of our customers called to check on us when we were out for two weeks sick because they know we are always there.”
Mike, of Mad Mike’s Jerky said, “I appreciate the flexibility the management has given me, and the folks in Fernandina are friendly; not to mention that many of them are so supportive that they even show up in the rain.”
Bacon’s Select Produce is another vendor who was on North Seventh Street before we were. Heather and Freddie, and now their children, are weekly staples of the marketplace. Heather and Freddie said, “Congratulations to the awesome community that has made it all successful! The market has intertwined our lives with many wonderful people. You are not customers to us, but friends.
JD Beef has enjoyed participating in the market for more than 10 years. They were vending on North Seventh Street when the change of ownership took place. Their all-natural products without hormones or antibiotics have proven their quality with the long-term success of their farm. Owner Sandra Durrance said they will have several good “specials” on Saturday to help celebrate our 10th anniversary.
Adam, from Carter Family Homestead, is a local farmer who is still experimenting with the foods he grows. While his garlic has been a huge hit, the deer ate all of his corn, so he tried mushrooms and they have become so popular, he now sells a mushroom growing kit.
Jenn Mayhem, of African Love Kitchen, said of the weekly crowds, “Without you, our customers, there is no us.”
The farmers market and the Fernandina Beach Arts Market will be open Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., rain or shine, on North Seventh Street in historic Fernandina Beach. With our 10-year anniversary, expect more than 70 booths. Music will be provided by Dylan Bailey on guitar and David Crout on keyboards.