illustration by Adam Larkum

Gulfshore Explorer


Gulfshore Explorer: A Farmers Market—And So Much More

Who knew that you can get your back checked and find winter scarves along with your favorite veggies at farmers markets here?

All I wanted was a couple of bell peppers and a pumpkin squash (as one does). But during a recent scouting of area farmers markets from Naples to Sanibel to Fort Myers, what I got was a diagnosis of spinal problems and a wonderful selection of winter scarves.

It was 80 degrees and sunny when I wandered into a farmers market in downtown Naples recently with my colleague, Lyle Fitzsimmons, whose wife had given him a list of vegetables to buy on our excursion: bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, etc. Not an unreasonable request. At the farmers markets I remember up north, your biggest problem would be deciding which farm to buy from. Every stand would be a cornucopia of seasonal vegetables picked just hours before, each display set up to be featured in an episode of Martha Stewart.

But things took a left turn as soon as we walked into this market, located next to Naples Square, when we were approached by a woman in the tent next to “Wisconsin” Cheese.

“Hi. How are you guys feeling? Any issues?” she asked.

“Great, thanks,” I replied.

“I noticed you seem to be leaning a bit when you walk. Are you in any discomfort?”

“Who, me?” I asked, thinking she could have meant Lyle.

“Yes, you.”

“I feel awesome,” I replied.

“It looks like your right shoulder dips a little bit and your legs are uneven.”

“I’m sorry, what?!?! Maybe this is a problem with my tailor. Or maybe I’m on uneven ground. This is an open field.”

She offered to perform some quick tests right there while asking Lyle how he was feeling. Unbeknownst to me, he had a laundry list of maladies to discuss as my spine was being scanned by two handheld gizmos that may very well have come from RadioShack. But I felt great and was confident that all was right with the world. Lyle, on the other hand, was achy all over, couldn’t turn his head to the right, and argued that he looked and felt 63 even though he is in his 40s.

Immediately, focus turns to the farmer chiropractor’s laptop where my scan results are being generated.

“Hmm, 437,” she said.

“Is that bad?”

“It’s not good.”

She then shows us my spine on the screen. There are lots of lines in bright red. Red is bad.

“But I feel fine. Shouldn’t I feel awful3?”

The farmer chiropractor told us that only 7 percent of the nervous system is designed for the perception of pain, and so conceivably I could be 93 percent wrecked and still feel fine. Who knew?

“Any sixth-grader knows that,” she said.

“I don’t know any sixth-graders,” I replied.

“The sixth-graders I know can’t tie their own shoes,” Lyle added.

By this point Lyle was asking the “Wisconsin” Cheese guy why there are quotation marks around “Wisconsin.” Now, just as a refresher, minutes ago Lyle was about to request a gurney to help him leave this booth and visit the Pineshine Farms stand, “Home to happy cows grazing on over 100 acres of peaceful island pasture (and cheerful chickens that keep them company).” It sells grass-fed, non-GMO, corn-free, soy-free, antibiotic-free and
hormone-free meats. He’s a vegetarian.

“Three hundred sixty-six,” said the doctor.

“What should we be scoring?” Lyle asked.

“If you had no problems your score would be 42,” she said.

Lyle and I look at each other and ask, “Why is 42 the perfect score?”

“You should get a standing desk,” she said to me.

“I write in bed.”

“I can make you an appointment to come in and get a proper exam.”

“I’m on deadline most of this week, when could you schedule me?”

“I could see you tomorrow.”

“I can’t tomorrow.”

It’s one thing to get medical advice from someone standing under a folding tent in a vacant lot, but it feels sketchy when that person can immediately get you into her practice the very next day. Yes/no? Who could be free tomorrow? What kind of professional can be free tomorrow? What color flag is that—red? Magenta? Fuchsia? It’s bright though, right? I actually scheduled an appointment. But it occurred to me, you’ve got to like her gumption. Probably fresh out of medical school (or whatever chiropractors attend), trying to generate a practice from scratch. I’ll probably reschedule when 94 percent of my nerves are shot. And Lyle had already resigned himself on not ever looking to the right again.

So… we left the farmer chiropractor and walked right into The Scarf Guys, an interesting booth filled top to bottom with knit scarves representing any number of sports teams. I’d rattle off a dozen or so super niche sports teams represented there, but I thought, “Who the #$% is buying winter scarves in Naples, Florida, anyway?”

“Only $15 today,” said The Scarf Guy.

“It’s 80 degrees out,” I thought to myself.

It seemed like a horrible day and location to sell scarves. But who am I to judge someone’s business acumen? Perhaps he’s done the research and knows the market better than I do. But I moved to Florida so I could throw away my winter scarves.

So we walked over to Peddler in Paradise, a microgreens farm that can likely fit its entire operation into the bed of a Silverado. What are microgreens, you ask? Baby leeks, broccoli, radish, pea shoots, you name it, none of which look to be more than 3 inches tall. Sprouts, if you will. Instead of needing hundreds of acres to produce full-size produce, you just need some grow lamps and a basement. Microgreens are supposed to be super delicious. Like the veal of the vegetable world. And super good for you. Like eating stem cells. Mmmm. I would have bought something but everything looked like sod and I remembered I needed to head home and mow the lawn.

On the way out we passed everything from a beaded purse boutique to a fishing charter booth to a tent filled with aprons, more than one of which was designed with a serious bondage vibe.

Regardless of the fact that the market seemed to be 10 percent fresh vegetables and 90 percent “other,” it was a nice surprise to learn that not all farmers markets are created equal.

That is, of course, unless you went to the farmers market over on Pine Ridge Road, which is where we went next. The very first thing we run into there is, you guessed it, a chiropractor’s tent. What is it about the lure of fresh vegetables that makes people’s backs hurt? Not only was there a chiropractor, there was another Scarf Guy! And another microgreens booth. And the same French pastry booth that I didn’t mention to Lyle because it was on his right and I didn’t want him to hurt himself. It’s basically the same setup as downtown, just more crowded (and with a xylophone player).

Luckily, we knew of another farmers market next to the BIG Arts complex on Sanibel, so we headed Cary Grant/Eve Marie Saint and, not surprisingly, found it to be another world altogether. With not a chiropractor in sight, there were numerous vendors with fresh vegetables, as well as other food items, such as gourmet cupcakes, breads shaped like dolphins and alligators, handmade soaps, more French food (this time from The French Artisan), Angelic Desserts’ Key lime pie, granola from Laurie’s Pantry, fresh pasta from The Pasta Machine, Chef Jarred’s Farm to Table (who was selling meals such as Italian Octopus Salad and Wild Boar, Chicken and Alligator Gumbo). It’s truly a gastronomic tour de force.

Lyle was even able to find his entire shopping list (from vendors on his left).

On the way home I stopped by the Ortiz Flea Market to grab some bananas. Even though it is a flea market and not a farmers market, it always has more fruit and vegetable vendors than all of these other farmers markets combined. Best of all, I could also pick up some cowboy boots, a Fly Emirates T-shirt and a queen-size mattress, none of which were available at the Naples farmers markets.

But I never should have carried that mattress back to the car myself; now my back is killing me.