Every Tuesday is organic market day at New Port Richey Public Library

New Port Richey growers sell fresh produce as part of Tasty Tuesdays gatherings at the library.
Published June 3 2015
Updated June 3 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — As fresh markets go, Tasty Tuesdays is a delightfully homespun offering held in the courtyard outside the New Port Richey Public Library.

Typically, seven or eight local growers lay out their seasonal harvest, along with a handful of vendors peddling honey, fresh eggs, orchids, organic baked goods and coffee; a couple of master gardeners offering advice on how to do it yourself.

The spring season has waned, with preparation focused on summer gardens sprouting okra, sweet potatoes and eggplant. But on a recent morning, there was still plenty of fresh kale, carrots, onions, blueberries and mint to be had.

There were a few curious browsers along with the regulars, who know to come early.

"We get here at a quarter to (10) because everything goes fast," said Donna Clark, who was stocking up on lettuce for herself, her son's family and their guinea pigs.

"I've been coming for a while now," said Victoria McGinnis, who was picking out carrots to mash into baby food for 9-month-old daughter Alaina. "I love it here. I stock up because everything lasts so much longer than the grocery store."

"This stuff makes me happy," Michele Carlisle said as she plucked a head of romaine off of Lindsey Parks' table. "Look at that — $2 for lettuce. What a deal. It's all organic. You know where it's grown. You know that the chickens (laying the eggs) are free range. It's cheaper than going to Whole Foods or Publix, and you're putting money right back into your community. It's a win-win."

That's the point of the market, part of the urban gardening movement that is on the rise around the country.

"There's a benefit to our patrons, but also to the library because it helps fulfill our mission to serve the community," said market manager and assistant library director Anne Scott. "We're always looking for ways to connect people to resources to make their lives better, and this is one way to do that."

Longtime market regular Alona Berkstresser of Port Richey would agree.

"I am not able to garden, so this is a blessing for me," Berkstresser said as she loaded her car with collards, beets, snow peas and Vidalia onions. "I love it. It's outdoors. It's fresh. It's organic. It's a gift for the community."

Most of the produce is harvested just hours before the market opens from burgeoning gardens just a few blocks away.

Parks helps supplement her income as a part-time courier by tending a small garden in a neighbor's back yard.

Jim Kovaleski farms on a larger scale, supporting himself by planting every piece of available ground at his home and in three neighbors' yards on Virginia Avenue.

It's more of a hobby for Richard Phillips who grows aquaponically at his home on Osceola Drive, with 1,200 koi fish that provide nutrients for his harvest of romaine and butter head lettuce that goes for $2 a head.

Nonprofit community-supported agriculture projects and co-ops such as Friendship Farms, Share and West Pasco Habitat for Humanity's Kinship Urban Farms also set up shop.

The farthest any of the food travels is from Greenville, where New Port Richey residents Cindy and Don Cadle farm property the couple purchased years ago for weekend getaways.

"This morning I had a ton of stuff, but most of it's gone. People really enjoy fresh foods," Cindy Cadle said as she tended a colorful array of beet greens, mint, fennel, dill, celery and Vidalia onions.

Tasty Tuesdays is a work in progress, said Scott, who helped launch the local market, which has grown steadily with a patient approach.

"There were all these local gardens starting up, and more and more people were growing things and asking about growing things," said Scott. "We started with two tables and two really bored farmers just sitting around, but we powered through."

Vendors pay no table fee, but must adhere to selling all-organic, non-GMO food products.

There's no overhead, so there's nothing to lose, Kovaleski said.

"If you want to sell eight tomatoes, you can sell eight tomatoes."

Growers have helped supply the library's seed-borrowing program and also spend time educating customers about nutrition and how to grow seasonally in Florida's sandy soil.

Many have made use of the city's free compost program, a pet project of former City Council member and environmental committee chairman Dell deChant of Friendship Farms.

DeChant, a master instructor in religious studies at the University of South Florida, is pushing to expand the urban gardening movement to include open city land.

"There are a lot of parcels that are vacant — just being mowed," deChant said. "We could be growing food on that land."

Perhaps the modest market will get a boost from Florida Organic Growers, a nonprofit organization based in Gainesville that promotes sustainable, organic agriculture.

Tasty Tuesdays is one of 10 organic food markets in Florida and the third in the Tampa Bay area that benefits from a $1.9 million FOG grant that offers a financial incentive for low-income shoppers who get federal food assistance. At the selected farmers markets, the needy shoppers can double up to $20 of their EBT dollars, said FOG community food project coordinator Carmen Franz.

"We're trying to get the word out, and outreach is the hardest part." Franz said. "The library is a gathering place, so it's a perfect place."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.