Handmade, Homegrown, Homemade, Heartfelt… Every vendor here has a story. These people really care about the things they grow, craft, and sell, and it’s obvious. But starting a business is hard. The initial investment can be financially restrictive. The market has “categories” and only allows a few vendors to sell in each one. Vendors must apply online providing forms, photos, and proper permitting. Some vendors need insurance, some require permitting by the US Department of Agriculture. Others fall under Cottage Food Laws and the labeling regulations are the biggest requirement. Vendors who only sell at the market can function under the umbrella of the Market’s Business Tax License. The Farmer’s Market has been a blessing for many of these vendors, an easy entry point as they define and refine their concept and grow their customer base.
“We are the business we are today because of the Farmer’s Market,” raves Wendy Johnson from Krazy Kombucha. She dreams of having a brick and mortar business, but the regulations are almost insurmountable. Kombucha, a fermented beverage known for its tangy flavor and gut healing benefits falls under the restrictions of the USDA. To sell her 18 flavors in a stand alone building requires a commercial kitchen, 3 compartment sink, air gap, refrigeration, and a grease trap with a 900-gallon tank. Many vendors can sympathize with these issues. The Farmer’s Market is a savior for these businesses.
As Jim and I hand over the last of his papers, I see a young family sitting on the curb sipping ginger beer slushies. The youngest child gleefully offers a sip to his father. A dog on a leash strains his neck to the child for attention. The father and the man share a smile. A vendor shakes hands with a customer. A woman waves across the street to another woman. People slip out of the sun into the permanent businesses that line the streets. Right here, on this one street, a community has come together to support each other. If downtown is the heart of Lakeland, the pulse here is strong. The ghosts of decades of commerce walk along these same streets and a community of care has flourished along the edges of Munn Park.
“You get to know your customers,” Jim points out. “The exchange is personal and meaningful. We have many businesses that started on these streets and have been able to grow because of relationships made right here!” He begins rattling off businesses. “Patriot Coffee, Born and Bread, The Nectary, Swan Brewing, The Salty Cow…. Even businesses who don’t have their own location have expanded offerings inside of other established Lakeland businesses. Ethos Coffee is inside several coffee shops and restaurants. Honeycomb Bread is featured on some menus, too. There are plenty more.”
The original City Market sits forever in history on the dusty, fragile historical map in the Lakeland Historical Archives Room at the Lakeland Public Library. The Market sat on “the other side of the tracks”, to the north of the original passenger station. To the south were the permanent stores, the higher end goods and the fancier clothing. Today, the Downtown Farmers Curb Market crosses these same tracks populating the street both north and south. Perhaps this is just coincidence or perhaps this is a beautiful representation of how meaningful commerce can tie together lives, build bridges over boundaries and cultivate care throughout cities.