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Finding middle ground

Mid-island, roadside location perfect setting for Beach Baptist's farmers market, but mission work remains the central theme

December 22, 2015
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

On Nov. 25, Rahel Csuka of Naples decided to take her farmers market tent on the road, giving Fort Myers Beach a try. She awoke at 5 a.m. and packed up her boxes of jewerly and purses, having no idea what to expect.

A mere month later, she was beaming about her results.

"That first day there were only about six or seven of us," said the vendor as she gazed at the line of tents on the grounds of Beach Baptist Church, smack dab on Estero Boulevard in the center of the island. "Today, we have 27 of us. And it's all been from word of mouth."

Article Photos

Shawn Crister, pastor of Beach Baptist Church, talks coffee with customers during the Dec. 16 farmers market outside his church. The coffee comes from Guatemala, where his church provides missionary work.

So the effort has been worth it?

"Absolutely," she said. "I'm already getting repeat customers. It's all about location, location, location. This is perfect, and the customers also get an ocean view and such a peaceful setting. As for me, I think this is the first time I've seen the ocean in months."

Customer Alexa Payne of Fort Myers Beach was equally excited.

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"I'm so happy this is here. I had no idea," she said of her first visit to the market, now four weeks old. "It's so close to my home and we were just driving by and there it was. We had to pull in."

And for vendor Jodi Hall, it couldn't be any more convenient. She lives only two houses away.

"What a blessing," she said as she arranged sun glasses for sale on what turned out to be a day without a cloud in the sky. "I get to walk here and enjoy the sun. It's not really going to work, is it?"

Fact Box

Fort Myers Beach's farmers markets

Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Santini Marina Plaza, 7205 Estero Blvd.

Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m, Beach Baptist Church, 160 Connectucut St.

Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Bay Oaks Recreational Campus (in public pool parking lot), 2731 Oak St.

Indeed, it looks like church pastor Shawn Crister is on to something.

"This all started from us hosting a craft fair as a fundraiser a few months back, and wouldn't you know it we had a couple hundred people come through," said Crister. "I thought, 'Wow, people really like this kind of thing.' That's when the lightbulb went off. I knew people loved farmers markets, but I didn't know it was anything like this. I think we could hold one every day."

At $40 per slot per week, vendors have taken all but 13 of the availbale slots. The profits go toward the church's missionary efforts in Guatemala, with the market featuring bags of coffee provided by their Guatemalan counterparts. The market takes an artison approach, highlighted by the sales of dcor, candles, artwork, photography and jewelry. On the food front, fresh seafood and produce are staples.

"We have two produce vendors, and that competition is nice in keeping the prices down," said Linda Miller, the market's coordinator.

Despite the early success, Crister is quick to emphasize the market's intent is to help others.

"I don't want to be known as a farmers market at a church but a church that has a farmers market," he said. "I want people to know why we're here - that it's missional. I guess it's just a good example of thinking outside the box."

It's also an example of making the most of a locale. With the two other markets on the beach being at opposite ends of the island, the middle made for the perfect place. Call it the meat in a farmers market sandwich.

"A lot of people considered this area a dead zone - everything seems to happen at either the north end or south end - and we want to change that," Crister said. "We want to bring some action, to bring in the walkers and the bicyclists."

The high visibility is something the town's market likely envies. Having enjoyed a primo spot at the base of the bridge in Times Square for years, the intense construction project now underway chased it a month ago to a new location on Oak Street, tucked behind the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus.

Kyle Karczewski, the town's recreation coordinator, said 22 of the 28 spaces available there are taken, similar to what was in place at the old location. The spaces cost vendors only $20 per day, or $64 for four markets.

However, customer traffic is down, he said.

"When you leave a place after 20 years of history that was right on the road and visible from the bridge, you can expect a tough transition," said Karczewski, who just signed up with the town to stay in the new location through April 30.

Amanda Estes of Fort Myers is among the vendors at Beach Baptist, selling candles for the past three weeks.

"I had no idea the town even had a farmers market," she said. "When I heard about this and saw the location, I jumped on it. You literally can't miss us."



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