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In Year 4, loyal customers continue to flock to Hernando County Farmers Market

SPRING HILL — Reliable vendors and regular customers keep the every Saturday Hernando County Farmers Market thriving. Now in its fourth year, the market boasts many booths bearing the signs of charter vendors and plenty of customers known among shopkeepers by their first names.

"We're always going strong," said market chairman Eric Parresol, interrupting his comments to dish up 2 pounds of all-natural homemade doggie treats at his tag-along trailer site, Dog Gone Healthy. The customer reported his dog gobbled up the last 5 pounds he'd purchased there.

"It could be pouring down rain," Parresol continued, "and people are out here with umbrellas."

The market offers a lot more than farm products. Independent sellers hawk tasty edibles ranging from cheese to jellies and baked goods. Artisans and craft makers offer up jewelry and needlework. Vegetable and floral plants are available. A few marketers are on hand to boost organizations or companies.

The market's longevity feeds on itself, suggested Bailey Borremans, a Spring Hill maker of costume jewelry.

"It's how long they've been here" that contributes to its success. "I've tried other markets. It's been very good here," she said for Bailey's BubbleGum Beads.

Cindy Skinner of New Port Richey, selling Cindy's Sweets at the market from its onset, concurred.

"(Customers) want to be sure you'll still be here," Skinner said.

She knows her many live-alone customers who have a taste for her pies — size small.

Under its longtime tent, the Humane Society of the Nature Coast markets its message of responsible pet care while selling pet foods, treats, toys and supplies.

"I try to come here every week," said customer Denise Flynn of Ridge Manor, whose family includes a cat and a couple of dogs.

Proceeds from selling overstocks of donated food help pay for animal veterinary care at the society's shelter.

Almost every vendor credits Beasley Farm of Brooksville with attracting the most customers to the market, whose overflow fuels their own sales. Hands-in-the-dirt owner Joann Beasley says simply of her farm's success at the market, "We try our very best to bring fresh produce to Spring Hill and the county."

Beasley hands out a schedule of harvests so customers know what to expect weekly from the farm's fields northeast of Brooksville.

While Beasley maintains a barn for sales at the farm and sets up markets elsewhere Mondays and Fridays, "we come here every Saturday," she pointed out. "We have regular customers every week."

One of those dedicated regulars, David Bahr of Brookridge, bears a shopping list. He and his wife are vegetarians. Bahr heads out early each Saturday — "rain or shine," he declared — to Beasley's five-space stall at the market.

"We plan meals for a week," Bahr said.

Some credit another factor for the market's longevity.

"Location," said jewelry maker Borremans.

Busy Commercial Way is the major north-south shopping corridor through the county.

After spending its first six months at another site, the market moved 3½ years ago to the parking lot outside the newly opened Rural King, a family-owned farm and home supply store.

"The farmers market continues to be a wonderful draw for the area, and we're with them," Rural King co-manager Bill Branas said. "The market is a draw to Rural King. It's definitely a beneficial association.

"One or two people per weekend may actually say something to us (about limited parking). We have many more who are glad it's all tied together."

Rural King is enabling a recent addition to the farmers market — ready-to-eat-food vendors. With a contract for a food truck at Rural King having expired, the store gave the go-ahead for food trucks at the market site, a couple each Saturday.

"We'll rotate food vendors in and out," Parresol, the market chairman, said. "We have enough signed up for every Saturday for a couple of months."

The next big thing: "We're in talks with Rural King about doing another food truck rally, on a Sunday," Parresol said. "We have 20 to 22 food trucks willing."

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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