NEW PORT RICHEY — The temps are nudging southward. That's a welcome sign for local gardeners whose plots finally are sprouting cool-weather crops.
But they are not quite there yet.
There have been ample supplies of locally sourced honey, handmade soaps, coffee and tea, but the pickings have been slim at the Tasty Tuesdays Organic Market. Each week, about 15 to 20 vendors sell produce and other sundries in a courtyard at the New Port Richey Library.
That's to be expected. It's the off-season for Florida gardeners. After the sweet potatoes and okra are pulled, up come tender seedlings of broccoli, collard greens, turnip and all that thrives when there's a nip in the air.
Patience may be a virtue, but it's also the way to roll for Nancy Montgomery, who's known at the market as "the tomato lady."
"We have 100 plants we're just waiting on — beef steak, Roma, grape, Compari," said Montgomery, who tends her home garden with her husband, Matthew.
"It'll pick up after the holidays," said Jim Kovalseski, New Port Richey's "Garden guru," who's recently back in town after spending the summer tilling northern soil.
He was about out of the winter squash and potatoes he brought back from Maine.
"But I have a lot of garlic and lots of sweet potatoes and turmeric," he said, adding that he'll soon be bringing greens, broccoli, carrots, radishes and turnips to market.
Kovaleski, whose produce also is available at Wrights Natural Market in downtown New Port Richey, has been at the forefront of the local urban garden movement. He is one of the original vendors at Tasty Tuesdays. His "Freedom Farm" plots, which provide his main source of income, are sprinkled through the front and back yards of his New Port Richey neighborhood.
New Port Richey resident Cindy Cadle, who brings vegetables from her organic farm in Madison County, has an edge on time, due to the cooler temps there. Her booth, situated near vendors selling Amish cheese and organic bakery items, was stocked with collard greens, kale, arugula and shitake mushrooms, along with broccoli seedlings for those who wanted to plant their own gardens.
While waiting for the winter harvest, holiday shoppers might happen upon some good, locally sourced finds.
On a recent Tuesday, Michelle Bell was pitching "Simply Suds," an all-natural laundry soap she created while living on a remote island in Alaska, where her husband was stationed in the Coast Guard. At $5 for 32 loads, the soap is a hit with college kids and those a budget, she said.
Adjacent to her was Ellen Nycz, of El's Naturals, who was selling an assortment of handmade soaps, including spiced cranberry soap leaves, shaved soap and loofah soaps that make good stocking stuffers or teachers' gifts.
"The market has been good for me. I enjoy coming out," she said. "I've met so many people. It's nice to see people supporting our local farmers market."
Shannon Southworth, who works as a manager for a marketing company, has been selling at the market for about two years. Her booth is filled with an eclectic offering of teas, photographic prints and gluten-free bakery items — spiced carrot cookies, lime bombs and pumpkin energy bites.
Not into tea? That's okay, said Southworth, who is happy to direct coffee drinkers over to Susan Harms booth. Harms carries organic coffees, essential oils, morenga saplings and "whatever vegetables I get out of my garden."
Ken Sakser, who stopped by to pick up a jar of orange blossom honey at Neil Ackerman's booth, said he enjoyed the alternative shopping experience.
"My wife usually shops here, but she was out (of honey), so she sent me," Sakser said."We use it in tea and on grapefruit. It's good."
The Tasty Tuesdays market started about five years ago. It supports the burgeoning urban garden movement, while promoting healthy lifestyles in the community, said library director Andrea Figart. Vendors pay no fee for spots at the market, but must sign a vendor contract indicating what they intend to sell.
"What makes the market different from some other farmers markets," Figart said, is the economical alternative it provides Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program recipients who shop there. Through a grant the library procured from the non-profit Florida Organic Growers, SNAP beneficiaries can double their purchasing power up to $20.
The library also has a seed exchange program allowing patrons to share and trade organic/non-GMO seeds suited to Florida's tropical climate.
Often, members of the Master Gardeners program are on site to share gardening tips. And the market occasionally features cooking demonstrations and healthy lifestyles workshops.
"It's a great opportunity for the library to be involved in the community and one of the ways the library connects the community with local resources," Figart said.
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.