Tampa Bay’s Fresh Air Markets

    By Vanessa Caceres

    Who doesn’t love fresh-air markets? They’re just the place to load up on produce, artisan and locally produced food, and unique jewelry and crafts. You get to listen to live music, try tasty samples, and enjoy the outdoors.

    All those highlights of fresh-air markets are what you’ll find when you visit Tampa Bay Markets, a series of six markets held in the Tampa and St. Petersburg area.

    Each market has its own feel, said Greg Barnhill, who helps to manage the markets.

    The Seminole Heights market, held the second Sunday of the month October through April at Hillsborough High School, has a younger, bohemian, and very dog-friendly vibe.

    The Corey Avenue Market in St. Pete Beach, held every Sunday, October through May, offers a more artsy feel, with locally owned shops and restaurants adjacent to the market.

    The Fresh Market at Hyde Park Village held on the first Sunday of each month year-round has a local, neighborhood feel to it, Barnhill said.

    The Tampa Bay markets also include:

    The markets draw anywhere from 50 to 90 vendors each.

    If that’s not enough, Tampa Bay Markets also hosts Flicks ‘n Food Trucks on the third Thursday of each month at the Grand Central at Kennedy in Tampa. The free event draws attendees with food trucks, music, craft brews, and a movie.

    Loaves of bread by Pane Bella are but a few of the temptations visitors will discover at the Tampa Bay Farmers' Market.

    Loaves of bread by Pane Bella are but a few of the temptations visitors will discover at the Tampa Bay Farmers' Market.

    - Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. for VISIT FLORIDA

    A taste of the markets

    So what foodie or crafty finds can you make at Tampa Bay Markets?

    Well, take for instance, S’More Handcrafted Artisan Marshmallows, operated by Michelle Fabricant. She has an ice cream store in Exeter, Rhode Island, but also makes marshmallows that she sells at the Corey Avenue and Dunedin markets. Her marshmallows are made with sugar cane syrup and have a softer feel than the store-bought variety. One popular flavor is coconut marshmallow; she also makes s’mores kits with her chocolate chip marshmallows, graham crackers, and even a sternum if you don’t have anywhere you can roast your marshmallows.

    “The markets draw customers from a broad geographical area,” Fabricant said.

    In addition to food finds, fresh, local produce is always of interest to market customers, Barnhill said. Produce vendors often sell in-season Florida-grown items like strawberries, greens, citrus, tomatoes, and more—all of which make for some colorful, social media-worthy photos.

    A number of agricultural vendors also raise and sell locally grown beef, produce that’s hydroponically grown, and items that are organic.

    The market vendors add a diversity that’s hard to find outside of bigger cities—turn the corner and you may find Jamaican vegan food, gourmet canned goods, banana breads, smoothies, vertical farming, empanadas, photography, Southern barbecue, and jewelry made with a sustainable ivory replacement. Of course, there are always the old yummy standbys like lemonade, grilled cheese, and baked goods.

    Chris Hammond of Majestic Treats was seen at the Corey Avenue Market serving up gourmet bread and plantain chips while he also prepped hot sauces and more than 31 dip flavors.

    “We get a lot of repeat customers. There’s good variety here,” Hammond said. The dip samples often lure in passerby; his most popular are garlic and herb and the cheesecake-flavored dips.

    One vendor focused on Florida culture and history is Danielle Thomson of Tropical Sea Sponges. Her husband is a sea sponge diver in Tarpon Springs, also known as the “Sponge Diving Capital of the World.” Thompson sells the sponges, all of which were harvested sustainably. Buyers can use the sponges while bathing or for personal care, and they’ll last up to a year if cared for properly.

    Thompson also makes handy soap-and-sponge combo items; she uses essential oils such as peppermint and lemongrass in the soap, with sponge poking out of and embedded in the soap. She’s a big fan of the markets both as a vendor and consumer. “They’re phenomenal. I love walking down and shopping,” she said.

    If you’re in the market for a different kind of shopping, Tampa Bay has it.

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