Head to CoolToday Park on Wednesdays for fresh air, fresh produce and more
By Jim Dickerson | on December 16, 2020
BY ROBIN F. DEMATTIA
Wellen Park Journal Correspondent
The Atlanta Braves knocked it out of the park when they launched a farmers market at their CoolToday Park last fall. The convenient location in Wellen Park along with plenty of parking makes the Wednesday morning market attractive for both customers and vendors.
“It’s awesome for our customers,” Stephanie Brocardi Albin, owner of Sassy Tarts, says of the market’s location. “People are less stressed when they come to the market because they don’t have to worry about where to park or if they even can park. That’s really tremendous.”
Ms. Albin’s father, Jean Pierre Brocardi, is “the charming French guy” she sends to the market to sell her baked goods. The most popular items are chicken pot pies, beef burgundy pot pies and a Key lime tart with a wild blueberry swirl.
Sassy Tarts is one of more than 30 food and agriculture vendors who set up shop each week.
Anne Bellinder, the owner of Happy Flowers, sells fresh-cut flowers and arrangements made from dozens of flower varieties she imports from Ecuador and Columbia.
“You name it, we have it,” she says, adding popular flowers include Dutch purple hydrangea, orchids, carnations, lilies and Gerbera daisies.
Ron and Betty Joe Baca of Baca Breads sell nine different flavors of challah bread (Mr. Baca recommends the cinnamon raisin for French toast and onion or New York rye for sandwiches). The couple’s business is in the process to becoming certified as a kosher bakery.
Other vendors provide local and organic fresh produce, meats, seafood, dairy, herbs, syrups, salsa and more.
Market Manager Lee Perron says he and his team have spent a lot of time curating “what we believe are the finest vendors in the region.” He works with local vendors as well as some who drive to CoolToday Park every week from Naples and Miami.
Mr. Perron’s organization, Friends of Sarasota County Parks, launched the Englewood Farmers Market in 2011 and still operates that in addition to one in Venice and the Atlanta Braves market. A nonprofit organization, the Friends group has donated almost $200,000 in proceeds from vendor fees to charities such as food banks and health-care clinics.
All three markets accept, and even double, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“A big part of our mission is to address food insecurity in the communities we serve,” Mr. Perron emphasizes. “If someone spends $20 on their card, we double that to $40 to spend on Florida-grown fruits and vegetables. It encourages them to have a healthy lifestyle.”
He notes that the pandemic and related unemployment rates have led people to require this assistance, making SNAP use “more robust than ever” at his markets.
He was approached by the Braves organization last year about setting up the market at CoolToday Park. “We agreed it would be a great idea to have a market for Wellen Park. It’s an amazing partnership, and the Braves deserve a ton of credit.”
He adds the Braves staff help set up and break down on market days, provide generators for vendors and offer marketing support.
Like the vendors, Mr. Perron says the park’s abundant parking is one of the market’s biggest attractions. “No one wants to carry a watermelon for four blocks,” he laughs.
While the market has made it easier for people who live near CoolToday to get fresh and prepared foods, Mr. Perron says he also often sees chefs from local restaurants perusing the market for items from local farms that they can’t find from other sources.
About 25 percent of the customers come every week, Mr. Perron says, and about another 40 percent come twice a month.
“We have a couple that visits Sassy Tarts every week and buys one large and several small pies. I asked them, ‘You buy a lot of pies?’ They said, ‘The small ones are for lunch and the big ones are for dinner.’”
This season, the market provides social distancing between vendor tents, all vendors wear masks, all food handlers wear gloves, and sanitizing stations are placed at entrances and vendor booths.
“We want to provide a safe outdoor shopping experience,” Mr. Perron says.
18800 S. West Villages Parkway
Venice, FL 34293
October thru March