Much like the heat, visitors to Gulf County are on the rise.
The official start of summer is near and the Salt Air Farmer’s Market, which arrives again 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. ET Saturday at City Commons Park in Port St. Joe, is blooming.
Farmers from around North Florida and Georgia travel to Gulf County stocked with fresh produce for purchase and local vendors sell homemade foods, crafts and jewelry. Live music keeps attendees entertained while they shop.
The goal of the market is to promote a sustainable food system on Florida’s Forgotten Coast.
“With summer, we’ve picked up a lot more traffic due to having a spot in the Tourist Development Council magazine,” said event organizer John Parker. “We have more vendors due to word of mouth.
“Locals and people from out of state are starting to recognize that we have a market here and that we’ve been consistent for six years.”
Parker said that partnering with the TDC allowed word of the market to spread into new areas around North Florida that the organization lacked the advertising budget to reach.
Market organizers decided to keep Salt Air going year-round to ensure a consistent presence in the county. Last December saw the first Christmas Farmer’s Market that brought holiday-themed foods, items and entertainment in alongside the regular fruits and veggies.
Parker, who owns the tie dye business Unique Dragonfly with his wife Carlene, said foot traffic through the market is on the rise, so are the amount of vendors setting up shop at each event.
He was happy to see more snowbirds participating while in town, bringing a unique flavor to the types of arts and crafts that become available.
“It’s delightful,” said Parker. “Word is really getting around.”
The word made it to Wewahitchka resident Cherei Leary who became a vendor at the market two years ago. Leary worked in the floral industry for 25 years but now uses her creative eye to create folk art with a focus on painted gourds and grapevine wreaths.
Originally wanting to showcase at the annual Scallop Festival she talked with Parker and together they realized that setting up shop twice a month was a smarter choice than once a year. Leary also recognized the recent influx in attendees to the market.
“So far, summer has been as good as in the winter when the weather was bad and people couldn’t go to the beach,” said Leary.
Leary said she started painting and doing crafts in college and is pleased to be able to use the market as a way to bring more attention to her hobby.
She described her art as “woodsie and whimsical” and she loves going to yard sales, buying and refurbishing items and then painting them with her wildlife designs that are inspired by the swampy landscape of Wewahitchka.
“I love being able to see the different types of crafts,” said Leary. “There are good days and bad days, but I just love getting out and seeing the people.”
Tommy Sauls, a vendor who makes earrings out of colorful fishing lures, agreed with Leary’s sentiments.
“The season’s been pretty good,” said Sauls, a resident of Port St. Joe. “We need more vendors--the more vendors, the bigger the crowd.”
Sauls said he’s spent five years selling his earrings and plants at festivals from Steinhatchee to Pensacola and was thrilled to see the Salt Air market attracting bigger and better crowds on a regular basis.
While Sauls said that attendance was better before the oil spill of 2010, he’s happy to see things picking back up.
New vendors, artists and merchants are invited to showcase at the event. The cost is $10 and the vendor must supply their own tables and chairs. Salt Air is always on the lookout for music groups and entertainers to play for a small stipend. For more information or to register as a vendor, call John Parker at 404-906-2637.