LAND O'LAKES — Behind the Land O'Lakes Community Center off busy U.S. 41 sits an empty 2-acre plot of grass.
But starting Oct. 3, Pam St. Mary envisions the area bustling with vendors selling fresh, locally grown produce, arts and crafts and organic sandwiches at the Land O'Lakes Saturday Market.
"We're trying to encourage the primary consumption of local food," said St. Mary, 57. "The average farmers market has things fresh-picked the day before, so there's great nutritional value."
St. Mary, a special education teacher from Lutz, has been frequenting farmers markets for decades. She wanted to start one in a centrally located area in Pasco.
Her goal: to encourage people to buy fresh and local, to promote local "green" businesses, artists and musicians, and to create networking and fun in a relaxed atmosphere.
To get the ball rolling, St. Mary and husband, Lee, a computer software engineer, began looking for locations for the market a few months back.
They stumbled across the county-owned land behind the community center and figured it was perfect for the market.
St. Mary began spending her spare time talking to local farmers, artists and "green" businesses in the area — companies selling solar-powered water heaters and other eco-friendly products — to drum up interested vendors for the market.
Then, St. Mary formed a partnership with the Heritage Park Foundation, a member of the community center's "Friends of the Park." Through her affiliation with that group, she won the county's blessing to use the land at no cost.
Once the market begins operating, St. Mary plans to donate 20 percent of the proceeds to the foundation to improve the park.
An additional 20 percent of the market's proceeds will be donated to the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank. St. Mary hopes the food bank will use the money to develop a "food self-sufficiency program" so families can grow their own produce.
"That way, they can grow their own food, instead of getting it at the food bank," St. Mary said.
Elizabeth Fields, executive director of the food bank, said she supports St. Mary's idea to promote healthy eating in Pasco by starting a farmers market.
"It will take awhile to catch on because it's a re-education of people," Fields said. "They are used to buying cheap food (at the store). When people realize they don't have to, they will see it's more cheap and beneficial to them" to buy from the farmers market.
The market would join a dozen others in the Tampa Bay area that are open from Thursdays to Sundays selling fresh fruits and vegetables.
In Pasco, the New Port Richey farmers market opened in April 2008, running each weekend through April of this year. Now, the market is open once a month.
Judy DeBella Thomas, executive director of the Main Street organization, said it's challenging to start a farmers market from scratch, but worth the effort in the long run.
"Because it's an outdoor venue, you wonder, 'Is it too hot, cold or windy?' " she said. "Each time, we've come against those problems."
Until her market opens in October, St. Mary's to-do list includes looking for banners and directional signs to place near the market, checking costs of liability insurance and finding people and organizations willing to donate money to support the market.
"It takes a lot of dedication to find people who can bring in produce," St. Mary said. "But, we're willing to put in the work."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.