From the Florida Times-Union-Shorelines
Sunday farmer’s market
in Atlantic Beach
off to a blazing start
The new Atlantic Beach Farmer’s Market cut its teeth in the heat of summer – traditionally one of the most sluggish times of the year for open-air markets, particularly in the South.
But its mid-July kickoff hasn’t stopped the Sunday marketplace in Jack Russell Park from getting off to, well, a fruitful start.
Organizers and vendors say that’s because Russell Park is much more than the recreational, athletic and governmental hub of Atlantic Beach. The tree-canopied refuge just west of City Hall and the city’s iconic five-way intersection is the community’s prime gathering spot, as well.
Anchored by a stealth offering of vegetables and other locally and regionally harvested items from Lee’s Produce, the market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., drawing hundreds of shoppers weekly.
“The park location is superb for all ages, children to play, and families to sit and have a bite to eat from our food trucks,” said Eden Leaf Natural’s Brenda Hall, a wellness product vendor who has been setting up shop at Beaches farmer’s markets for 12 years. “And the support from the City Hall folks is outstanding.”
Indeed, it was Hall and other vendors who encouraged market manager Julie Olsson to approach City officials about the prospect of hosting a Sunday marketplace under the trees at Jack Russell Park.
Olsson manages farmer’s markets in St. Johns County, including the popular Wednesday market at the St. Augustine Pier.
“The vendors said there was a real desire from the community to have its own market in (Russell) Park,” Olsson said. “From there I reached out to the City managers and we started our dialogue. (City Manager) Shane Corbin, (Deputy City Manager) Kevin Hogencamp, Mayor Ellen Glasser and the city commissioners have been extremely instrumental in helping this happen for the community.”
While farmer’s markets are a core of sustainability, particularly because they enable shoppers to buy healthy and environmentally friendly products directly from the source, their benefits aren’t obvious to everyone. Corbin said farmer’ markets provide a wide variety of benefits to a community, including but not limited to building social networks, growing local economies, and reducing environmental impacts.
“For example, the goods at farmers markets are produced locally, which means they travel fewer miles before reaching customers. This reduces a community’s carbon footprint and is consistent with the City Commission’s LEED for Cities goals,” he said.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an international program that helps local leaders create responsible, sustainable and specific plans that contribute to quality of life and reduce air and water pollution.
Dig Local Network hosted markets for about a decade on Wednesdays at Bull Park in Atlantic Beach and Saturdays at Jarboe Park in Neptune Beach before moving the markets Russell Park in April 2020, early during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Atlantic Beach was left without a farmer’s market when Dig Local moved its Wednesday and Saturday markets to Penman Park in Jacksonville Beach in April.
Hogencamp noted that farmer’s markets inherently inclusive and place an emphasis on not just food quality and health, but also the sustainable practices used to grow the food and craft homemade products.
In addition to Lee’s bounty of organic produce and Hall’s handmade merchandise, the commodities from the 30-or-so vendors include organic grass-fed beef, free-range non-GMO chicken and eggs, buffalo yogurt, artisan breads and pastries, mushrooms, spices, handmade soaps and lotions, hand poured candles, Acai bowls, hand-tossed pizzas, plant-based meals, kombucha, plants, jewelry, custom leather bags, hand crafted cutting boards, kettle corn and local shrimp.
“I have been honored to witness the Atlantic Beach Farmer's Market continue to grow and thrive and look forward to what each week brings,” Hall said.
The occasion is complemented each week by the talents of an acoustic musician, and sometimes by a local man known as “AB Bubble Guy” who treats families to a spectacular bubble show.
“It’s like a weekly family reunion,” Hogencamp said. “The sense of community in the park is profound -- even remarkable.”
Kimberly Ruessler, co-owner of Lola Farms in Lake Butler, says that even on the hottest days of the year, Russell Park is an idyllic market setting.
“The shade trees and picnic tables for folks to hang out around make even the hottest days not so hot,” said Ruessler, who sells her farm’s pasture-raised heritage pork and poultry at the Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach markets.
Looking ahead, Olsson said, the Sunday market is planning pet adoptions, community services, and other learning and growing opportunities. Also, a holiday market is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4.
Vendor Punita Patel, operator of Backyard Buffalo, a small-batch dairy in Palm Valley, said that aside from Russell Park being charming, it’s also the most practical market location from a community-development perspective.
“Just like that, a park when mixed with a farmers market gets transformed to being a community hub. I love witnessing this transformation,” she said.
The biggest draw for Patel, though, is the love and support she receives.
“I am not exaggerating when I say I feel like I am part of the (Atlantic Beach) community,” she said.
Icing on the cake, Ruessler says, is that the vendors also are developing a special comradery among themselves.