FT. PIERCE, Fla. — Nearly 20 years ago, University of Florida Extension Agent and Master Gardener Anita Neal dreamed of a farmer’s market in downtown Ft. Pierce, overlooking the Indian River. She envisioned a place where residents could buy locally grown fruits and vegetables and talk with experts from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
That market recently was named one of the five best in the nation by American Farmland Trust’s Farmers’ Market Celebration.
“This acknowledgement speaks volumes to the vendors that have continued to share their products with our community,” said Neal, who is now the director of the UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County office. “The management provided by the Downtown Fort Pierce Farmer’s Market board and the market manager has provided an outlet for consumers to enjoy garden-fresh produce, locally grown plants, freshly baked goods in a beautiful environment. It has become a Saturday morning tradition for many of our residents and visitors.”
Nick Place, UF/IFAS dean and director for Extension, applauded Neal’s efforts to encourage consumers to meet the people who grow their food.
“This well-deserved and high honor comes after years of dedication by Anita Neal, along with dozens of other UF/IFAS Extension staff and volunteers in Ft. Pierce,” Place said. “Their efforts show that consumers can not only obtain food from local farms, but they can also meet and talk with farmers about their agricultural practices. Doing so helps consumers know where their food comes from and how it was produced.”
American Farmland Trust has championed farmers and helped protect farmland since 1980. It recognized the Ft. Pierce Farmer’s Market in all five of its top categories, earning fifth place in each: People’s Choice, Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community and Champion for the Environment.
“Farmers’ markets are critical for new and beginning farmers,” said Susan Sink, the trust’s vice president of development and external relations. “Next generation farmers selling directly to consumers at farmers’ markets have nearly a 10 percent greater chance of staying in business than those selling goods through traditional retail. And when family farmers thrive — our community, economy and families thrive.”
In 1997, Neal had a goal of attracting 15 vendors the first year of the market. Instead, she saw 25 that first year, with more than 70 now.
“It has only grown ever since,” said Neal, who served on the market’s board for 10 years. “We are blessed with our location, right on the Indian River Lagoon – atmosphere is everything.”
By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, email@example.com
Source: Anita Neal, 772-462-1660, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Caption: Ft. Pierce Farmer’s Market named one of the best in the country. UF/IFAS