Locally grown vegetables. Pasture-raised chicken.
All of these things and more can be found at the various farmers markets in the Greater Gainesville area. Bring a shopping list, friends and family to a local market where Gainesville’s diverse community and fresh produce come together to create entertaining and fruitful weekly events.
With the growing benefits of eating and buying produce locally, farmers markets foster the perfect places to experience the vibrancy of the city as well as supporting local farmers and sellers. From downtown Gainesville to Haile Plantation and out to High Springs, there are several locations to experience the farmers market scene.
Sharon Yeago, food consultant and former manager of Alachua County Farmers Market and the High Springs Farmers Market, knows the benefits of shopping locally.
She explained how the local economy benefits from farmers markets because residents and farmers alike spend their money in town – not only at the market, but also at other establishments, such as restaurants and shopping centers.
“The local economy is stronger because you’re keeping the money here,” Yeago said. “If you add in federal food nutrition programs, like SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], that almost doubles its dollar value in the community. The farmer makes more, the community makes more, and people eat better.”
The Union Street Farmers Market is a great place to start your search for local produce. This market adds a community atmosphere to the already lively downtown Gainesville. Beginning in 1996 by local farmers, with the help of the City of Gainesville and Ken and Linda McGurn, it has continued to bring local vendors and residents together on a weekly basis. From the start, the market has provided a family-friendly event that offers produce, bakery items, clothing, massages, music, coffee and more. You can even bring your dog.
“I go [to the Union Street Farmers Market] because of the atmosphere and the flair,” said Gainesville resident Goti Mullersman. “Basically, it is an alternative way to shop that has a lot of benefits for your health and social life.”
The Union Street Farmers Market was originally located in the Sun Center, but for the past 11 years the market has found its home at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. Now, it hosts over 60 vendors each week. Both buyers and sellers can visit its website to see a list of weekly and upcoming featured vendors, musical performances, products and other events.
Union Street Farmers Market surrounds the grassy courtyard of the plaza. The market typically hosts a crowd of buyers that spend their time shopping and conversing with vendors, eating, walking around the courtyard, catching up with friends and dog watching. The laid-back vibe encourages walking slower, smiling more and eating plenty.
Chase Rossi from Southland Grass Farm, a vendor that specializes in pasture-raised chickens, explained how important farmers markets are to the Gainesville community.
“I think it is invaluable,” Rossi said. “For some people, this is where they go to grocery shop. They come here, and they buy their produce and their meat here.”
Southland Grass Farm sells produce at the Union Street Farmers Market on Wednesdays as well as the Alachua County Farmers Market on Saturdays.
A long-held belief that continues to plague the farmers markets is that they are more expensive than regular grocery stores. Yeago debunks that fallacy.
“If you take 10 items that you buy in the grocery store and you buy them at a farmers market, you’re going to save money at the farmers market,” she said. “Think of the economics of it. In a grocery store, farmers make 20 cents on the dollar of that food. At a farmers market they make 100 cents on the dollar, so they really have control over what they charge better than the grocery store.”
While roaming around the farmers market, visitors can snack on tasty food samples, listen to local musicians and speak to the farmers.
Bob Achey from Gainesville’s Rainbow Star Farm, which grows organic produce, was manning the stand at the market in May. He made sure to greet and assist all who passed by his booth. He also talked about the economic benefits of farmers markets, especially for local farmers.
“For one thing, having a brick and mortar place is very expensive and [with the farmers market] you bring what you have at certain seasons and you sell them,” he said.
Achey also explained that markets allow farmers and their employees to work regular hours and make a profit while still getting some free time on the side.
“I’ve been working since seven this morning. I can work on the farm, get everything ready and sell and be home by eight and be ready to eat, shower and go to bed. Not necessarily in that order,” Achey said with a laugh.
No matter the weather, the market is usually filled with families playing in the grass of the Bo Diddley Plaza, vendors ready to brighten your day with delicious, fresh food and plenty of restaurants within walking distance if hunger pangs call for a sit-down meal.
However, if weekday visits do not fit into your busy work schedule, the Haile Farmers Market opens every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The independent farmers market, owned and operated by local farmers, began in 1998 and continues to provide the community with local produce, handmade gifts and more.
Just like the Union Street Farmers Market, Haile Farmers Market hosts over 50 vendors eager to talk and sell their wares. Haile, as a whole, boasts a community atmosphere with friendly residents that greet the many people they pass on the street. Additionally, there are many quaint shops to explore while taking in their cool air conditioning in the summer (and heaters in the winter) before going back to the outdoor market.
This picturesque community hosts its Saturday market along a street shaded by trees. Halfway through the market, in-between vendors, there is a stage where musicians create background music to liven up your shopping.
Additionally, if you missed your morning cup of coffee, vendors can help out – some may even offer you a free sample. Brio Cold Brew, for example, is a new wholesaler and distributor that recently joined the Gainesville farmers market scene.
In May, Miguel Cardona of Brio Cold Crew greeted visitors with free coffee samples and expressed his appreciation to the market for bringing the community together to support local businesses. He also mentioned that he and his coworkers switch off manning the stand so they can visit other vendors and bring each other food – muffins especially.
Some vendors offer a wide variety of food and drink while others provide seasonal produce straight from their farm. Jeff Groves from Williston Blueberry Farm explained that their seasonal fruit is sold at many of the local farmers markets as well as other Florida markets, usually from the end of March through June.
Groves described the value of farmers markets in terms of their ability to offer fresh, local produce where the farmers who grow the food can talk to their customers face-to-face.
“Knowing what’s imported from out of country, this is a far more superior product, overall. All the fruits and vegetables in the market are,” Groves said.
When deciding where to shop for groceries, keep in mind the family-friendly farmers markets in the Greater Gainesville area. Not only do these markets develop a local food economy, but they also nurture the health and wellness of Gainesville’s community. Visit the farmers market scene for the diverse and lively community and return home with fresh, local produce sold directly by those who grow it.
If You Go
The Greater Gainesville Area’s Farmers Markets
Union Street Farmers Market at Bo Diddley Plaza
111 E University Ave,
Gainesville, FL 32601
Open Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Haile Farmers Market
5213 Southwest 91 Terrace,
Gainesville, FL 32608
Open Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon
Alachua County Farmers Market
5920 NW 13th St,
Gainesville, FL 32653
Open Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon
The High Springs Farmers Market
115 NE Railroad Ave,
High Springs, FL 32643
Open Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m.
Tioga Monday Market at Tioga Town Center
105 SW 128th St,
Newberry, Florida 32669
Open Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. from September 1st to July 15th and from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. from November 15th to September 28th