Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Farmers Market

One of the simple pleasures of living in Celebration is the Sunday morning Farmers Market. It is a seasonal event, so as of this writing it is on hiatus for the summer, but I am hoping that it returns in the fall. I suppose there is a possibility that it won't, since Lexin now owns the dowtown, but to me a Sunday morning in autumn, winter, or spring without a trip to the Farmers Market just isn't complete.

This neat little event takes place along the street fronting Lakeside Park, which is blocked off and set up with canopies, tables, and chairs for the vendors. True to its name, it is home to at least a couple of farmers who sell their freshly grown fruits and vegetables.

One of the greatest perks of moving from a cold climate to Celebration was the abundance of wonderful produce available all year long. Up north, when winter rolls around, the quality of fruits and vegetables in the grocery stores takes a noticeable dive. I love a fresh, juicy, flavorful tomato, seasoned with just a bit of salt. But back in my old stomping group in the midwest, that taste treat is only available for a short part of the year. The rest of the time, all that I can find are pale pinkish blobs of firm, flavorless flesh that don't deserve to be called tomatoes. Some stores sell "vine ripe tomatoes" in the off season, but those are very expensive and still aren't comparable to the real thing.

In Florida, we've had great luck at finding fresh produce year round. Before our house was done, when we'd come out to visit each month, it would break our hearts to bum around the Farmers Market and see the fresh fruits and veggies, knowing that we couldn't buy any. We always broughy carry-on luggage only, and since Sunday was our "return home" day, we knew that it wouldn't be a good idea to try to transport perishables.

Now that we have our home, we can enjoy wonderful fresh salads in the winter. I'm sure that native Floridians, as well as those who have called it their home state for a while, take it for granted, but it's still a novelty for a transplanted Midwestern like myself.

But the Farmers Market isn't just devoted to veggies. There are vendors selling all sorts of wares, from food to crafts to baked goods. One of my favorite booths is manned by a French (I think...not 100 percent sure of the accent) couple who sell all sorts of sinfully delicious cookies, tarts, and pasteries. Every Sunday morning during the Farmers Market season, I stop by their goodie-laden table to buy two cookies: one turtle cookie (sprinkled with nuts and filled with caramel) and one peanut butter-filled cookie. I always take them "to go," as they don't last more than 30 seconds from the time they reach my hand to the time they are stuffed into my eager jaws.

I also enjoy the fresh lemonade that is usually for sale at another regular vendor. He's not there all of the time, but he's usually on hand selling tangy, ice-cold, freshly squeezed lemonade in styrofoam cups decorted with festive little paper umbrellas. It tasted so darned good on a hot, humid day (and Florida has its share of those, even in the fall), and I'll even indulge when the temperature is a bit on the cool side. I still have my hearty northern genes that keep me feeling warm even when the temperature dips into the 70s or 60s and the natives are all bundling up in jackets. Every now and then, fresh limeade is offered too...that's a special treat.

My husband used to buy coffee from a flavored coffee vendor who had such exotic offerings as Key Lime and Bananas Foster, but he stopped coming at the end of the season. My husband, who is a coffee fanatic, was a little dissapointed, but his sadness was eased by the close proximity of Barnie's. Sure, they might not have Key Lime coffee, but their chocolate mint and Santas White Christmas are truly the nectar of the gods.

There is usually a seafood vendor, although we haven't tried his wares, and a few people selling food. I have had the pulled pork sandwhich offered at a barbeque cart, and it is very good. I am fussy and can't stand fatty pork, but it was lean enough to meet my rigorous standards.

There is also usually at least one person selling plants and flowers. I purchased two houseplants from one of the usual vendors, and they have thrived despite my erratic watering habits. When I bought the plants, I was reminded that Celebration really is a Mayberry-like small town at heart. I selected my plants and looked around for someone manning the booth, but there was no one in sight. I waited a few minutes, but no one appeared. By this time, another customer had appeared and wanted to buy some plants, too. There was a sign marked with the prices, and I debated leaving the money, but my city genes kicked in and said, "Not a good idea."

Finally, one of the neighboring merchants volunteered to keep an eye on our money. He said, "Don't worry, we all watch out for each other." I can't even imagine that sort of thing happening at a flea market or swap meet where I grew up. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, my mother used to sell at a flea market, and her purse was stolen. One person distracted her by pretending to be interested in some merchandise while the other made the grab.

But in Celebration, a laid back spirit of comraderie prevails. I suppose the person who volunteered to watch the money could have easily pocketed it, but I really don't believe that it did. I'm sure that if he needs to leave for a few minutes, the plant seller probably returns the favor.

There are other merchants with other wares, but I'm always disappointed that there aren't more craft vendors. I am always looking for new odds and ends to complete the decor in my beloved house. Oh well, Celebration does host a yearly craft fair, too. I found some neat items last year so I'm looking forward to its return this year.

We did attend what was advertised as a "craft fair" at the Tupperware Center a few months back, but that was a major let-down. In the midwest, when something is billed as a craft fair, it is usually a gymnasium crammed wall to wall with tables and dozens, or sometimes even hundreds, of people selling just about any kind of handmade item you can name. This had maybe two or three tables selling what you might loosely define as a "craft." The rest was just people trying to get rid of the junk from their attic or people selling items that any self-respecting dollar store would reject.

Of course, even the term "flea market" means something different in the Tourist Capital of the United States. When we first moved to Celebration, I saw numerous ads for flea markets on and around 192. To me, a flea market is a mix of people selling second hand items and wholesale goods or closeouts (every now and then, they also sell items that I won't touch because they are hot enough to burn my fingers). But after visiting a couple local flea markets, I quickly learned that they may have different vendors, but they're selling the exact same items. The focus seems to be heavily on luggage and cheesy Disney t-shirts and souvenirs.

Thankfully, the Celebration Farmers Market lives up to its name, with nary a rolling suitcase or Mickey Mouse t-shirt in sight. Since it is so conveniently located downtown, my husband and I usually ride our bikes rather than bothering to get out the car. Most items that we purchase are small enough to be lashed onto our bike racks or balanced precarious on the handlebars.

Now that there are rumbles of rumors that the parking lot across from Lakeside may soon turn into a construction site, I'm a bit worried about the future of the Farmers Market. If that parking is eliminated, I'm not sure just how feasible it would be to keep blocking off the street (and parking spots) on a weekly basis. But as summer draws to a close, I have my fingers crossed, and I'm eagerly awaiting the return of my Sunday morning tradition. Hopefully it will be back, just as it has been for a few years now. I know that there is a glass of lemonade and a peanut-butter filled cookie with my name on it.

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