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Organic farmer Stanley Glaser dreams of a day when farmers markets blanket Dade County. He imagines a bonding of communities at those gatherings -- neighbors meeting one another for the first time, children and dogs gamboling among vendors' stands that overflow with produce and crafts. He envisions every supper table laden with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.
"I could see ten or twelve markets in the Miami area, maybe all happening on the same day," muses Glaser, a Redlands farmer who for the past several years has volunteered to manage the weekly Coconut Grove Farmers Market. "They would be sort of like community gathering places every week, where the affairs of the community could be discussed, people with political agendas could come, young musicians could set up and play. Plus, they would be good places to buy groceries, because you'd have closer contact with your seller and would have a better chance of getting fresher stuff."
Glaser's reverie may not be as idle as it seems. The fifteen-year-old Coconut Grove Farmers Market, for years the only urban one around, was joined this past year by at least two outdoor markets -- one in Coral Gables and one in Fort Lauderdale. As of this writing, at least two others are being planned in the City of Miami.
While this proliferation pleases him, Glaser knows the difficulty of running a market. Not only do vendors have to deal with the harshness of sun and rain, but they have to win the confidence and loyalty of customers willing to stock up on food only once a week. In addition, Glaser warns, site selection can make or break a market. "It's got to have a heart," he says. "It's got to be a place where people want to go and stay. You need shade. You don't want to go out there and bake under the sun."
In fact, right now the sun is threatening to kill the Coconut Grove Farmers Market. For years vendors peddled their eclectic wares -- everything from produce to fish to tie-dyed clothing to back rubs -- under three oak trees on a patchy lot at Grand Avenue and Margaret Street. But City of Miami administrators discovered that the Saturday-only market was operating without proper permits, on a portion of the lot zoned exclusively for residential use. In August the vendors were ordered to move out from under the trees to the other side of the lot, a barren, sun-parched area bordering Grand Avenue that was properly zoned for commercial use. Since the move, Hurricane Andrew has curtailed the abundance and variety of goods sold, and the exposed location has burned away the communal ambiance.
Several weeks ago officials from the City of North Miami approached Glaser about the possibIlity of relocating the market to Griffin Park, on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 121st Street. The small but well-shaded park is often rented for festivals and other uses. The city is waiting for a proposal from Glaser, and officials say they are far from committing to a farmers market. "There are farmers markets and there are farmers markets," remarks Mayor Mike Colodny, who confesses he hasn't yet visited the Coconut Grove Farmers Market. "There are some nicely maintained farmers markets, and I've seen many that are disorderly, disheveled, not well maintained." For his part, Glaser hopes North Miami officials like the Coconut Grove market's permissive attitude and array of vendors, and cautions against overly restrictive market rules.
It's that sort of sprawling festiveness that Roger Abramson hopes to capture with the farmers market he's organizing in Miami's Bayfront Park. Abramson says the weekly Sunday market, scheduled to debut January 31, will include produce, homemade crafts, and live entertainment. "I want it to be kind of a Sunday in the park with strolling entertainment -- a real destination," explains Abramson, an entertainment promoter who is producing the market in association with the Bayfront Park Management Trust. (He is hoping for 200 vendors by the time the market commences, but by this past week only 65 had signed up.)
The Coral Gables Farmers Market, on the other hand, is restricted to locally grown produce, some homemade food, and ornamental plants. (The winter market in Merrick Park begins its second year on January 16 and will return every Saturday through the end of March.) Similarly, organizers of the fledgling Red Road Farmers Market at 581 NW 57th Avenue plan to invite fruit and vegetable vendors only.
For 61-year-old Herb Hiller, who founded the Coconut Grove Farmers Market in 1977, diversity and frivolity was the essence of the weekly gathering. "All kinds of kids and creatures would dance around," he says. Still, he welcomes the recent up-cropping of farmers markets; anything is better than nothing. Their appearance, Hiller believes, coincides with a rise in environmental consciousness and a desire for closer communities. "It sounds like people are getting wiser to the importance of getting neighbors out on the street," he says. "As good as Woolley's is, you can't really sit around and play harmonica and let the cats and dogs and kids roam around in aisle seven between the spice racks and the packaged yeast. You can do that in a vacant lot or a park. Markets get us back to using outdoor space again.