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Year-round Local Food Finds at One of America’s Favorite: Winter Garden Farmers Market

The city of Winter Garden, Florida, is so supportive of its local agriculture that it bought and set aside land close to the downtown area specifically for farming and community gardens.  So it makes sense that residents are enthusiastic about the Winter Garden Farmers Market. Set in the charming city center, along brick roads and the pavilion, the market offers residents a chance to interact with local farmers and learn about their food. Patrons are extremely enthusiastic that their votes helped secure the Winter Garden Farmers Market a top spot in the American Farmland Trust’s 2012 America’s Favorite Farmers Market competition.

You can find just about anything at the Winter Garden Farmers Market, from fresh produce, organic meats and eggs, and goods made from locally grown foods. Winter Garden is located just outside Orlando and the climate allows for year-round growing. Florida is renowned for its citrus, so you don’t have to look far at the market to find your favorite variety of oranges, lemons, or tangerines. Fall is one of the best growing seasons for the area, so residents will have an opportunity to enjoy delicious herbs, beets, and even strawberries into the holiday season and beyond.

The market is about four years old. It has moved around to different locations but now has a perfect spot near the pavilion and bike paths, said Shannon Heron, project manager. “The downtown merchants association worked hard to make the old downtown very active and vibrant,” she said. “It has the real great old town feel and it pulls people into the downtown. It’s really an incredible location.”

On any given Saturday at the market you’ll find kids playing in the newly installed splash pad to stay cool, dog owners shopping for pet treats, and families enjoying freshly squeezed juice from local citrus. Patrons are completely loyal to their market and many come early in the morning to get the freshest produce. Musicians frequent the market to entertain shoppers and play games with kids. “It’s a really friendly, open sort of vibe,” Heron said.

The vendors also have a tight community. They help each other out if they are short on staff and they work closely with the downtown merchants. “Our produce guys are so busy,” Heron said. “They all watch out for each other.”

The market is home to a third-generation farmer. Through a partnership with the city, he farms about 10 acres of land owned by the city of Winter Garden. Dana Brown, market manager, said the city plans to set aside another 40 acres for others to farm, as well. The city recently bought about 100 acres, which will be set aside for parks and farmland. Brown said the city planner is a visionary with preserving local farmland and the community is in full support. There is even a community garden for residents to grow on their own plots of land.

“This is a new thing for the community, but they are just going with it,” Brown said. “There isn’t a lot of red tape. The city just said let’s do it right and do it big. They are very progressive.”

One of the local farmers plans to host a corn harvest festival to help celebrate the award from AFT. It will give residents a chance to see where their food is produced but they will also celebrate the fall harvest with tractor rides and a corn maze.

The organizers will continue to come up with interesting ways to promote their local growers and merchants and encourage the community to come out and enjoy the wide assortment of goods and food offered at the market. The goal is to build off the success from winning the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award and continue to encourage residents to support the local farmers.

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