The idea of modern day farmers markets may evoke images of pretentious hipster farmers who refuse to eat a carrot unless they’ve plucked it from their own soil, certified it organic and given it a name.
But the truth of South Florida farmers markets fails to satisfy naïve, insulting stereotypes and, instead, introduces a kind of warm community where good-natured people (yes, some of them hipsters, but certainly not the pretentious type) meet to talk, laugh, and eat healthy, delicious food. While many grow and sell solely organic produce, other farmers are less concerned with today’s dietary trends and more concerned with providing fresh, local food. Bottom line: down here, there is something for everyone.
“A lot of people get hung up on those key words without understanding their full impact,” said Helen Cole, whose business, novae gourmet, sells all natural beef and chicken jerky at the Upper East Side Farmers Market at Legion Park on Saturdays. “I think it’s more important that an unripe peach or nectarine does not travel 3,000 miles across the country only to taste like an unripe peach once it gets to me. I prefer something that’s picked at its peak season and that takes maybe an hour to get here.
“The last time I ate a good peach was in Georgia.”
Admittedly, peaches may not be Miami’s strong suit, but there is plenty of pride and much needed shade under the tents of our markets. After all, how many markets in the United States can brag about selling fresh exotic produce such as dragon fruit and guanábana (aka, sour sop)? Not many. As Miamians, we enjoy a unique market of markets.
So, if you’re in the mood for a healthy day of eating with some fine friends of the earth, be sure to check out these special markets that made our list:
Yellow Green Farmers Market
1940 N. 30th Rd., Hollywood
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Welcome to the Taj Mahal of farmers markets. By far, the Yellow Green Farmers Market dominates all other South Florida markets in a competition of grandiosity.
Upon first entering the 100,000-square-foot complex (it was once a sheet metal factory), it almost feels like you’ve walked into a strange kind of upscale flea market. Vendors sell clothes, flowers, arts and crafts — a woman’s voice blares over the loudspeaker, announcing deals of the day. One can easily get lost in Yellow Green, but likely won’t complain about it. Nearly every necessity and luxury is only few tents away. The message is clear: come pamper yourself.
Vendors offer a diverse array of goods and services, including: skin detox treatments; massages for a dollar a minute; candies; baked goods; quail eggs; remote control cars; hummus; Louisiana dips; sushi; vegan soaps; hula hoops; and organic pet treats. At a tent called Piaza Italia, a large candy and snack tent, vendors showcase countless cylindrical tubs filled with salty Cajun and sesame seasoned salty snacks and naturally dried fruit snacks, including flavors like ginger and grapefruit.
Nearby, the Olive Station Bar offers flavor-infused, tasty olive oils with red and green scotch bonnet; wasabi; red pepper; shiitake; dill; cilantro; cilantro; honey, cinnamon, and herbes de provence. The company diffuses all of its oils locally.
Sit-in dining is also an option at Yellow Green. The Chill Bar boasts an impressive menu of organic foods and a pleasant outside seating area.
Inside, Amber’s Tropical Escape provides shoppers with a chance to relax, grab a beer, and watch the game for a while. Owner Amber Knesz makes most of the food she sells. She started out in 2010, selling only lemonade and boiled peanuts. Now, menu items like hummus, kosher hot dogs and fish dip with wahoo and mahi-mahi, make for great snacks. Knesz says she is famous for her frozen sangria.
“I wouldn’t serve anything here that I wouldn’t eat,” she said.
Despite the market’s pomposity, Knesz manages to create a small-market feel at her space. Her 7-year-old son, Louis Donofrio, takes guitar lessons at the market and Knesz uses fish and other foods from Yellow Green vendors to prepare her foods.
Knesz knows many of her customers by first name. Jenni Sklar, 24, and Jesse Fournier, 30, had their first date at Amber’s. Loquacious and all smiles, Knesz did wonders to ease their initial tension, the couple recalls. Now, Amber’s Tropical Escape is their go-to bar to cure Sunday morning hangovers.
“Amber made our first date a lot less awkward,” said Fournier, a recently transplanted Bostonian with a thick accent. Sklar perused the $10 beer cap earrings for sale on Knesz’s counter and settled on Blue Moon. “This spot is my favorite. It’s just the best.”
General Manager Mark Menagh notes that this sense of community was the goal of Yellow Green.
“What we’re trying to do is create a farmers market that’s appropriate for South Florida,” he said of the challenges. “A farmers market really does reflect the community. We can’t have an all organic market here with all local farmers when we have about 160 vendors; that is, until we have worked to develop a small farming community in Broward.”
Yellow Green also rakes in the customers — about 1,200 a day, Menagh said. During the winter season, there are about 3,000 daily customers.
Upper Eastside Farmers Market at Legion Park
Biscayne Boulevard at 66th St., Miami
Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
Unlike the mammoth Yellow Green, the Upper Eastside Farmers Market at Miami’s Legion Park is small, charming and still shaping its identity. With about a dozen vendors, it is the affable, laid-back runt of the South Floridamarkets.
But it has at least one very important quality that most, if not all, of its competitors seem to lack: 100 percent of the produce sold is from local farms and vendors. The market’s organizers take pride in this.
“We do only local produce and we screen all of our vendors,” said Art Friedrich, market manager and co-founder of the Urban Oasis Project, a local nonprofit that promotes healthy eating by hosting markets, planting private gardens for families in urban areas, and teaching composting food preservation and preparation. The Upper Eastside Farmers Market is its flagship market.
Friedrich, 33, sports a worn newsboy cap, a red beard and glasses. He moved from Boston, where he says there is a huge local foods movement. “We focus on trying to get produce from sustainable farms,” he said. “We have a really broad selection of what Miami-Dade and South Florida grows. We grow some stuff ourselves and some of our supporters grow produce from their yards and their trees.”
The produce, at least as of early September, is not your typical, run-of-the-mill tomatoes (which are only in season during Miami’s winters) and lettuce. Under the main tent, customers can choose from katuk, calabaza squash, kimchi, sauerkraut and sugar apples. During the summer, exotic tropical fruits are popular, including lychees, mangoes, passion fruit and dragon fruit. The popular dragon fruit is a piece of artwork with a medusa-like head and vines that end in bright pink fruit-filled bulbs. The taste is akin to a grainy kiwi.
The dried dragon fruit offers a healthy snack. “It’s like a sweet seed cracker and its very addictive — after you have a few, there’s a lingering sweetness that brings you back a minute later to have another one,” Friedrich said over the soft beating of a drum across the street. “It’s a really great fruit for diabetics, because it has a super low glycemic index; there is a very low amount of sugar in it but it has a great sweetness to it.”
Customers can also indulge in scrumptious homemade Copperpot’s jams, marmalades and sriracha; flavorful roasted corn ($2 an ear); all natural, flavored jerky from novae gourmet, or myriad fresh fruit juices from the Nature Boyz’s tent.
“The best thing about coming here is the coconut juice,” explained Little Havana resident Ania Fresquet, a yoga mat tucked under her arm.
“We’ve always been comfortable at this market,” said Helen Cole, who has been selling her jerky at the market since March. “It’s so laid back and all of the vendors are great artisan producers who are very proud of their work.”
Vanessa Safie and Thomas Wilfong of Copperpot’s delectable natural jams and marmalades, have set up shop at Legion Park for about six months. Their most popular flavor is jalapeno jam, which provides all of the jalapeno taste without the heat.
“I personally like this market because we know money goes back into the Urban Oasis Project,” Safie said.
But it’s not only about the grub and goodwill. For example, Asha Orchids offers a vibrant selection of blooms and Pogo Products makes and sells satchels, bags and clothing from recycled supplies from furniture and upholstery stores. Owner Adam Kahn, 45, doubles as a massage therapist. He creatively dubbed his handmade yoga mat bags, “Yogozys” and makes eye packs, heating bags and business card holders.
Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Market
3300 Grand Ave., Miami
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.
During any given Saturday under the large blue and white tent on Grand Avenue, you can find foodies, yogis and earthy folks of all ages clawing at boxes of fresh organic produce and cooling down with cups of fresh, homemade vegan ice cream.
The Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Market has maintained a loyal fan base for more than 30 years. Some of those fans hang out all day.
Kendall resident Sharon Shaw is one such customer. She spends the day at the market, which Shaw and her friends have dubbed the “magical tent,” munching on salads from the popular salad bar, vegan sushi rolls, fruit pies and chocolate brownies. Shaw and her friends love the market for its impressive selection of prepared foods.
“It’s unique; there is no other place like this out there,” Shaw said. “Any greens from Glaser Farms are outstanding. The food is made with such love and everything is so consistent.”
Stan Glaser, owner of Glaser Organic Farms and market organizer, boasts more than 30 years of South Florida farming experience. Glaser sports a full white beard, a weathered baseball cap, jeans and a T-shirt that reads “Fresh is Best.” Aloof at first, he manages a few subtle grins and bits of dry humor while discussing the history of the market’s location.
“This was back when the Grove was wild and unsettled,” Glaser said. “So, it was a good scene.” Like any good farmer, Glaser laments the possibility of more high-rise condos at his market’s present location and the surrounding area. But for now, at least, the land is used to nourish his grateful market customers.
In the Redland, Glaser Organic Farms sells health foods to grocers and markets all over the country. The list of buyers includes Whole Foods Market. The market, which has been around since 1978, was featured as a nationwide top organic market in a 2007 USA Today article. Glaser estimated that about half of the food sold at his market is locally grown, and about 1,000 customers shop at the market each Saturday — many of whom munch on one of Glaser’s highest selling plates, avocado salad. According to Glaser, about 95 percent of the food at the market is organic.
“On a decent day, you can’t even move in here,” Glaser said. “There are a lot of markets around but we’re the best one. We’re the biggest, oldest, and most dedicated.”
The Coconut Grove location has hosted Glaser’s market for about 20 years and, as convenient as it would be for Glaser to move south and closer to his farm, his loyal customer base keeps it anchored.
The market’s vendors run the gamut, from incredible Indonesian food from a tent called WarTeg, to mind-body therapy at Dr. Myra Miller’s Soul Sanctuary, where she nurtures souls.
“I am trained as a psychologist, but my real focus is the healing of the soul,” Miller explains, adding that she loves the Coconut Grove market. “This is an awesome place to be. There is a spiritual and conscience awareness here.”
Throughout the day, Glaser’s employees tend to customers and to the food stations, loading and unloading boxes of fresh produce.
“A big staff is required,” Glaser said. “It’s like bringing the circus to town.”
Recent hire Jazmin Checo, 26, wears a big smile, a head scarf and an apron.
“The kind of customers who come here are yogis, people who are transitioning from their average Latin cuisine, and have learned about this market from the Internet — anyone who wants to eat healthy,” Checo said. “People usually start at the salad bar — some of them get vegetarian nori rolls, sushi boxes, ice cream, and milkshakes.”
The homemade vegan “N’ice cream” is a labor of love, taking a few days to perfect the flavor and few hours of rough churning to form the texture. The result justifies the hard work; after tasting it, you will dream of the smooth, creamy wonder that is Banana Walnut N’ice Cream. Checo’s favorite is macadamia strawberry.
But like all foods at this market, almost better than the taste of the ice cream is the fact that you don’t collapse into a food coma after eating it.
The Sunset Marketplace
Sunset Place at 5701 Sunset Dr., South Miami
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.
This South Miami farmers market’s new location puts you smack dab in the middle of the action. Sure, parking is tricky there, as always, but a stroll through South Miami is a far cry from torture. Of course, a very pleasant Sunday awaits you at the end.
Munch on delicious baked goods, fruit or jams and then catch a flick at the theater upstairs, or talk with the friendly vendors and customers, all of whom have interesting stories about how they came to sell their product.
Family is the story at Kami’s Kitchen, which sells cookies, brownies, cakes, biscottis and cupcakes. Soft-spoken and sweet, Kathy Del Campo explains that she bakes with her mother and sister. Her father, Lee Murrell, sells copper crafts he has been creating for more than 40 years. The family also makes cocktail jellies such as margarita, strawberry daiquiri and wine. They also set up shop at the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market on Sundays.
Jams are a common commodity at these kinds of markets, but there is something special about Cucky Bellande’s homemade jellies. Bellande talks about jelly the way Leonardo da Vinci might have talked about his paintings. She may have struck a perfect balance of flavors in her habanero and guava mix. She partners with an organic farm in Homestead to ensure fresh ingredients.
Coconut Grove lawyer Douglas Hiller is a loyal customer — to both Cucky and her jams. In fact, Hiller says he usually checks out the Sunset Marketplace to catch up with her. Many of Cucky’s jars line his shelves at home, but his favorite is “Mango Passion.”
Some of the fruit vendors divide their tents into twos, separating local produce from nonlocal. The local sections, for example, include the tropical exotic produce like avocado, star fruit, passion fruit and mamoncillo (Spanish limes). A lot of the other produce had made its way from Washington or California.
Fernando Menoyo sells colorful cotton, hand-crafted bags, hammocks, and belts that take about a month to make. The Wayuu women of Colombia have made them for hundreds of years, Menoyo noted.
While the grub is certainly important, it is the people who seem to leave the most lasting effect on whether a farmers market experience is sweet or sour. Cucky agrees.
“I like the Sunset community,” she said. “It’s very diverse as to age and ethnicity. People here are very open and courteous. Generally, they are very nice.”
Illustration: Ana Larrauri