The Sanibel Farmer’s Market is the islands’ seasonal fresh produce market where friends and residents meet to socialize through the love of local products and fostering community. They have remained a steadfast partner of FISH’s food pantry and the island community since 2008 and have become a Sunday morning ritual for many, providing delicious fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses and more to islanders and visitors alike. The market is run by Sanibel locals Betsy Ventura and Jean Baer, owners of Local Roots, which operates ten Lee County Farmers’ Markets.
Although the market has always been a partner of FISH by encouraging vendors to donate or sell at reduced cost any unsold items to prevent food waste, they have also gone above and beyond to partner in other ways. In recent years, Betsy and Jean suggested “Farm to FISH” which encourages market-goers to either make cash donations or to purchase fresh produce for the FISH food pantry. Each Sunday, between Farm to FISH and vendor donations, FISH volunteers load up the van to provide cases of fresh local produce to food pantry clients for the week ahead.
Annually, the Market coordinates with FISH to provide fresh products to the islands’ only Food Pantry. At the recommendation of Ventura and Baer, vendors pack boxes of unsold fruits, vegetables and goodies for the FISH food pantry. At the end of every market Sunday, FISH volunteers pick-up, sort and stock donated items at the Food Pantry.
The FISH Food Pantry is a vital service for many households; the organization receives requests for assistance daily from island residents and workers struggling to afford the skyrocketing cost of groceries. The organization works to keep pace with increased demands but also has experienced procurement issues at times due to shortages as well as increased spending correlating to the increased costs of food. Last year, the Pantry program distributed 255,980 pounds of food equating to 213,316 meals. Knowing that FISH has increased the purchase of products weekly and must place limits on how much one family can take to ensure staples are available to all Food Pantry patrons, the Market has stepped up their commitment to FISH by increasing the number of awareness promotions at the Sunday market.
Assistance from the Sanibel Farmer’s Market has helped keep the food pantry stocked with healthy, fresh items that FISH was, at times, struggling to secure. In addition to the Pantry partnership, FISH and vendors from the Market worked together to provide a themed Smile Box to island seniors. Vendors donated and provided reduced cost items such as soap, pears, mini pumpkins, bread, candles, honey, jam, beet and okra chips, all tucked into a Farmer’s Market reusable bag.
“Our partnership with the Farmer’s Market and their eagerness to help is essential to our success. We also are so appreciative of our volunteer teams who pick up from the market and organize our food pantry on Sunday afternoons. We could not provide these wonderful products to our community without their help,” says Maria Espinoza, Executive Director, FISH.
Ventura and Baer are personally invested with the FISH organization, its continued growth and its success. Despite their full-time jobs coordinating the many markets they run throughout Lee County, they avail themselves to FISH and support their mission almost daily. They have even solicited funds directly from community members in order to secure fresh produce for FISH clients throughout the year. From holding promotions weekly and providing donations not only individually but also by encouraging other vendors and patrons to do so, their commitment to FISH and the community is obvious. The Sanibel Farmer’s Market genuinely embodies what it means to be a community leader beyond their role as an outdoor marketplace. “FISH and our neighbors greatly appreciate their generosity and cannot thank Betsy, Jean and the generous vendors enough for helping supply healthy choices for those that use our Pantry, and for suppling items for our Smile Boxes,” adds Espinoza.
Recently, the Sanibel Farmer’s Market/Local Roots was recognized as a finalist for The Community Foundation’s 6th Annual ENPYs – Excellence in Nonprofit Performance Yearly – awards that acknowledges the efforts and accomplishments of Southwest Florida nonprofits, their leaders and partners. The awards ceremony will be recognized a on a special live televised broadcast airing across Southwest Florida and watched around the world by live streaming at ctntelevision.com
The Sanibel market is welcoming open-air environment that is spread out to create social distancing. Hand sanitizer is available everywhere, and visitors are asked not to gather due to the ongoing pandemic. The market, located at Sanibel City Hall, 800 Dunlop Road, and is open every Sunday from Oct. through May from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers something for everyone, from fresh fruits and vegetables, honey and cut flowers, to meats, seafood, prepared meals, cupcakes, bagels, fresh guacamole, native plants and more. For additional information, visit http://buylocallee.com.
For additional information on the FISH organization, please contact Maria Espinoza, Executive Director at 239-472-4775 or visit their website at www.fishofsancap.org.