Vendors pull tarps over their squash, tomatoes, and jars of homemade sweets and adjust their canopies to protect plants against the wind of an approaching thunderstorm. Farmers and other vendors come every Wednesday, rain or shine, to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore craft and farm market.
The market features just-picked, local produce; home-grown plants and herbs; hand-made coin purses and totes; small-batch honey, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters and more. The market started this spring and meets 10am to 2pm every Wednesday at ReStore (6606 Elva St., Milton). The goal is to bring local products and produce to the community.
“It’s part of our mission and what we do,” says ReStore Director Connie Bryars. “We build homes, we build community, and we build hope. The ‘community’ part of that is how the market fits in.”
A glance around the market reveals a variety of friendly faces happy to discuss everything from beekeeping to experimental farming techniques.
Deb and Bob Knowles bring in produce from their Lazy K Farm in northern Santa Rosa County. A breeze flutters a colorful tablecloth to reveal dozens of watermelons beneath tables laden with potatoes, corn, peppers, berries, squash and a rainbow of tomatoes. They’ve been farming just seven years, but Bob’s great-grandfather once homesteaded the land. The couple attends conferences on farming practices to keep up-to-date on ways to grow crops with minimal pesticides and weeds.
“We love to grow vegetables,” Deb says. “We like to provide ourselves and other people with vegetables so they don’t have to get them from California or Mexico.”
“It’s really all available right here,” Bob adds.
They use plastic mulch to cut down on weeds, use minimal pesticides, and no GMOs. Their son and his wife help out on the farm as well, making it a family affair.
Next to their stall, Tracy Tucker sells raw honey, creamed honey and honey infused with cinnamon, plus jam and fresh herbs. She hands out honey samples from one of her bee colonies to shoppers Wednesday.
She had a second colony until recently, when it swarmed and made off to the wild. Some bees have less of a chance of survival in the wild, Tracy explains, so the first four times the hive swarmed, she caught the bees and wrangled them back into the hive at her family’s Navarre home. The fifth time, she let them go.
“They need to be managed,” she says, a little perplexed.
Tucker says her husband and son were the first beekeepers in their family. Her son even has a hive on their balcony.
“It started as a hobby for them, but you can’t not do it fulltime!” Tucker laughs. “I don’t really have a choice!”
Need a little farming know-how? The market is good for that, too. Charles Bodamer, who grows crops north of Milton, picks up a handful of green onions and gives simple instructions on how to separate and replant them. His table holds black-eyed peas in the pod, green peppers and jalapenos.
Tina Jones of Tina’s Old-Fashioned Jams and Jellies brought her produce and preserves from her home in Pensacola, where she and her husband grow everything in their yard. Jones proudly holds up Chinese long beans nearly a foot long.
“It’s my hobby,” Jones smiles. “It’s fun. We grow everything; I make everything.”
She enjoys getting to know her customers and forming relationships with them, but she admits the farming and cooking can be a lot of work and is very time-consuming.
“I spend a lot of time making these things,” she says. “It gets tough.”
It’s worth it, though, she explains, to bring local produce to the community and to help bring traffic to ReStore, Habitat for Humanity’s thrift store. If the smell of fresh Chinese buns isn’t enough to lure in customers, maybe the promise of samples will. Jones offers samples of everything from blueberry honey to ginger pear butter.
“I hope this will benefit Milton and Pace people who come here,” she says.