Locally roasted coffee beans. The alluring aroma of sticky buns. An old woman in a floppy hat and a brightly-colored dress smiles and dances to music played by the live band.
It's the Saturday Morning Market near St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront. The St. Petersburg market is the largest of the more than 80 farmers markets in Florida. And it gears up most weekends for an increasing number of locals and visitors seeking fresh, healthful and mostly local foods.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 people eat and shop at the St. Petersburg market every week. About 10 percent come from outside the Tampa Bay area. People are always looking for food that is healthy, interesting and unusual, said Mark Johnson, market director for the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg.
"Really, the thing for us is people come to ours for great social experience and an incredible variety of products," Johnson said. "One thing people tell us is that taking people to the market on Saturday is their favorite thing to do with an out-of-town visitor."
It even beats out the beach, Johnson said.
Linda Hurley often drives down to the market from her home in south Tampa to try new foods. Recently she tried pulled pork from M-N-M Barbeque. She keeps coming back because it's outdoors, and she's always seeing different people and their dogs. Her friends from out of town love going with her.
"That's the beauty of this market," Hurley said. "It's an experience."
In a corner of the market sits a tent filled with produce from Worden Farm, a 55-acre organic farm in Punta Gorda. Shoppers browse up to 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including kale and fennel bulbs with broad stalks that fan out into fragrant fronds.
Vegetables sold at the market are sometimes cheaper and always fresher than what's available at a supermarket, said Dalton Tininenko, a Worden Farm employee. The vegetables customers see on Saturday are picked only two or three days before. The greens attached to beets and carrots signal freshness, and those greens can also be eaten. Produce bought at a grocery store was probably picked four to five weeks before showing up in the store, Tininenko said. Fresher food is more nutritious, and the customers know that, he said. Carrots with bushy tops sell out barely an hour after the market opens.
"The consumer is much more educated, and they are interested in their health," Tininenko said. "All these vegetables are local, and there's a big movement for local food."
Tininenko enjoys watching strangers meet over vegetables and exchange recipes. "It gets to be a real hometown that way," he said. "It's community building."
There are typically 200 vendors rotating through 130 spots at the market, guaranteeing something different every week for visitors, Johnson said. On one Saturday, a stand sells grass-fed beef. Other stands feature orchids, fresh herbs, hula hoops and handmade soaps. A man with a French accent sells crepes from a tiny trailer. The scent of kettle corn mixes with the sweet aroma of fresh strawberries. Visitors can choose prepared food from different countries, including Ethiopia, Cuba and Greece. Artisanal foods include herb-infused honeys and more than 40 flavors of pasta.
While the markets in Florida focus on fresh food, each adds its own touches to the experience.
In Miami, the Coral Gables Farmers Market features a gardening workshop, a morning Tai Chi class and a local chef preparing dishes available to sample.
The Sarasota Farmers Market hosts an annual book fair and an annual cheese festival in February.
Families set down blankets and toss frisbees to dogs at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket.
Attendance at this market doubled after moving to the city's downtown waterfront. The market is in its 17th year, but this year is the first time they will be open during the summer for locals heading home after work and tourists returning from a beach day.
Katrina Resch, the market's manager, said more people are interested in eating healthy foods that are fresh and local. People come to the market for its variety of produce and products, and the experience of live music and being outdoors, Resch said.
At the Hyde Park Village Fresh Market in Tampa, vendor Steve McGlockin offers treats with interesting flavors from his stand, Whatever Pops. Popsicle flavors include caramel coffee, pineapple cilantro, chocolate sea salt and strawberry basil, and orange cream. He also offers sugarless popsicles in a couple of flavors for dogs.
On Saturdays at the Ybor City Saturday Market, McGlockin said he often gets customers from cruise ships making a stop and other visitors ride in on the trolleys.
"I think people just like to get outdoors," McGlockin said, "and see a variety of things."
This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.