(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series about the market. Click here for the previous story about SNAP benefits at the market.)
It takes a lot of effort to provide fresh food at the Flagler Beach Farmers Market. Produce at the market comes not just from the surrounding area, but from farms from throughout Florida and even surrounding states.
Zoee Forehand, who operates the Flagler Beach Farmers Market, said that while some vendors at the market grow items themselves, others travel to distribution points to pick up items that are not in season in their area.
“We have one vendor who drives over to Plant City every night if they run out of strawberries,” she said. When peaches are in season in Georgia, vendors travel there and bring them back to Flagler.
“We offer customers the bounty of other areas,” Forehand said.
One vendor who travels far to bring fresh produce to Flagler County is Brooks Produce, which is next to J.J.’s Flea Market in City Market Place on Cypress Point Parkway.
The Brooks family, Arthur and Lecinda Brooks and son Carl, drive all night to bring produce to the store, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. They also have a booth at the Flagler Beach Farmers Market on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Brooks farm is located between Ocala and Gainesville, Lecinda Brooks said. Each night, Wednesday and Thursday, they leave home at midnight and drive 2.5 hours to a Tampa distribution point to pick up produce from farmers. Then, they drive 3.5 hours to set up their stands with fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It doesn’t get any fresher than that,” said J.J. Blankenburg, owner of the flea market.
Several years ago, Lecinda Brooks said, they grew some vegetables on their 40-acre farm, but that changed when their neighbor developed an area that was formerly used for hunting. The animals, having nowhere else to go, moved onto the Brooks farm.
“We would grow it, and the animals would pick it,” she said with a smile. Now they have some cattle and buy all their produce from other farmers.
They have been coming to the Flagler Beach Farmer’s Market for 12 years and started selling produce at J.J.’s Flea Market a couple of years ago. Gasoline is much more expensive now, but Lecinda says that so far they have been able to absorb the increase in price. Carl said he could remember when it cost $40 to fill the truck. “Now it’s $140,” he said.
Lecinda Brooks said farmers deliver produce to Tampa directly from wherever it is grown. This time of year, much of the produce, such as beans, celery and radishes, is grown in South Florida. Bananas come from Costa Rica, and the potatoes at Brooks Produce are currently from Idaho. Brooks said the produce is all farm fresh and not warehoused before distribution.