CLEARWATER — By 6 a.m. Sunday, before the break of dawn, a small group of vendors gathered in a field off Court Street near downtown.
Guided first by headlights, and then the rising sun, the vendors unloaded crates with fresh produce — onions, peppers, sweet potatoes and cucumbers — homemade hot sauces, knitted sweaters, black leather necklaces strung with gemstones, and other knick-knacks from the backs of their cars.
A canopy of colorful tents spotted the field like wildflowers, and at 9 a.m., the morning’s silence was broken with the tinny sound of a snare drum. A man’s impassioned vocals bellowed from a nearby speaker.
Cumbia con la luna y cumbia con el sol. Cumbia con la reina de mi corazón.
Clearwater’s first Hispanic farmers market was open for business.
The city is home to a vibrant and active Hispanic community. Approximately 20,500 Clearwater locals identify as Hispanic or Latino according to recent census data. It’s the largest concentration of Hispanic residents in Pinellas County.
The population has grown over the past two decades, with a 56 percent increase since 2000. But Clearwater had never had an open-air market dedicated to Hispanic culture.
It’s something market organizer Dina Ramos was adamant to change.
“It’s glorious, it’s a crying moment,” said Ramos, looking out across the field of vendors Sunday afternoon. “There’s such an electrifying charge in people, it’s like they’ve been waiting for us.”
Ramos, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said the idea for the market began as a conversation with a group of friends. They wanted a place for the community to come together; where business opportunity could grow, humanitarian services could be accessed and cultural heritage celebrated and shared.
About six months ago, the group of friends put pen to paper. First, they found support from city officials and local development organizations. Then, they recruited vendors and performers. This past weekend, the concept went to trial — and was a success.
Over the two-day period, Clearwater residents celebrated Hispanic culture and community through access to local craftsman, free live performances from children’s folk dance troupes, food for purchase and more.
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Ramos said one of the things she considers to be most special about the market is that it provided opportunity to people who may not have previously considered selling their work.
“Many Hispanic people are craftsman,” Ramos said. “But they’ve never had the chance to sell their art. We wanted to give them a place where they could.”
Such was the case for Jose Rosa, a woodworker who began making charcuterie boards and butcher blocks at home for his friends about a year ago. When his wife, Viviana Cestero, heard about the market on Facebook, she pushed him to reach out and get involved.
“I didn’t have any expectations, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosa said. “This was actually just a passion of mine. But people have been buying (my work).”
He said the experience is one he’ll seek again. But beyond the business opportunity, Rosa said he was just glad to gather and celebrate Hispanic heritage.
High School student Quetzia Hernandez, agreed.
“We value our culture and it’s really cool seeing people representing their heritage and not forgetting who they are, especially for younger people,” said Hernandez, whose parents are from Mexico. “Everyone is welcome and it’s special seeing everyone come together to celebrate in this wonderful way.”
The market will be back Nov. 20-21 and Dec. 18-19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information, visit https://www.clwhispanicfarmersmarket.com/.