Midweek doldrums? Check out the Phillippi Farmhouse Market, held weekly October through April from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Phillippi Estate Park in Sarasota. This volunteer-run market is operated by the Friends of Sarasota County Parks and attracts 50 vendors selling everything from hydroponic veggies to custom hats to delicious baked goods.
Highlights of the market, now in its eighth season, include live music, free parking, and free guided tours of the Edson Keith Mansion at 10 a.m., said market manager Fred Whitehouse.
“Our market is located on grass, in a park setting. People like to sit around and hang out,” he said.
Visitors stroll through the market, stop for doughnuts from the Amish Baking Company, buy lunch at Perry’s Original Roadside BBQ or Polpo Pizza Company while they drink a strawberry lemonade from Leah’s Lemonade, and sit down on Adirondack chairs in front of the live music. Kids – and sometimes adults – dance to the music as they experience a sugar (and music and fun) high, oblivious to nearby Tamiami Trail.
The main mission of the market is to raise money for the 100-year-old farmhouse on park property. The farmhouse is one of the oldest-standing wooden structures in Sarasota County. Edson and Nettie Keith built their mansion on the property in 1915; during construction, Edson lived in the farmhouse, which was used afterward for staff. The market has already raised $100,000 for the farmhouse upkeep and restoration, Whitehouse said.
The 60-acre park – located on Phillippi Creek – also has a canoe and kayak launch, fishing pier, gazebo, rose garden, and playground.
Although there’s a curiosity about the farmhouse and mansion, most market visitors are lured by the promise of great produce, food, and crafts. With the high interest in locally-produced food, Whitehouse said that agricultural vendors make up a large chunk of the market space. Many of those vendors – including some organic farmers – sell seasonal, Florida-grown items, such as greens, eggplants, cucumbers, and strawberries.
Some vendors also sell produce not native to Florida; this reselling has been controversial in foodie circles, but Whitehouse said it’s a way to keep those vendors competitive against supermarkets. In other words, let customers spend their dollars at Phillippi Farmhouse Market instead of the local grocery store.
Ultimately, this focus on practicality and a good vendor mix adds to the element of fun that Whitehouse and his wife, Grace – who runs the Friends of Sarasota Parks information booth at the market – want to create.
“I like to tell vendors to make people happy. You’re not selling tomatoes or wooden spoons-you’re selling customer satisfaction,” Whitehouse said. It’s that attitude that he believes reels in customers week after week.
Correspondent Vanessa Caceres