BRANDON — Virginia Geisler, 84, sat in a patio chair, her two Tennessee beefsteak tomatoes tied off tightly in a plastic bag. She would make tomato sandwiches with them, using the lettuce she grows in a planter box outside her unit at Tessera of Brandon. She deflected the Hellmann’s versus Duke’s mayonnaise debate; she preferred olive oil mayonnaise.
Her friend Mava Lowe, 89, sat adjacent, still unsure what she would purchase at the inaugural farmers’ market at the senior living center. Probably Georgia peaches.
Nearly all of the 48 residents of the facility were in attendance, as well as a few dozen members of the public, either drawn by the promise of vendors like Tampa’s Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, or maybe just curious to take a peek at Brandon’s newest $28 million, 107,000-square-foot senior living facility that opened in April.
A steel drummer hammered his way through the Jimmy Buffet oeuvre while Tessera staffers erected an area to contain goats for the goat yoga that would follow at 5 p.m.
With monthly service fees starting at $3,495 and memory care costing $4,895 per month, Tessera may not represent how the average senior is able to live. Residents can join an in-house choir. There are three "Creature Comfort" bunnies residents can canoodle with. And fresh, locally sourced foods may be a trend seniors, and their caregivers, are hopping on. As the population ages and the specter of food insecurity grows, facilitating access to healthy foods becomes more important.
But on a recent afternoon, attendees were focused on everyone’s favorite farmers’ market feature: free samples.
Ybor City’s Brisk Coffee gave out little cups of a punchy blend. Hasan Alkhoor of Tampa’s Just Hydrate offered a coffee date drink, a banana nut and two aloe vera juices, many of his formulations designed to boost the immune systems of older folks. Bloomingdale Florist doled out long-stemmed roses to all assembled, their frilly heads bobbing like batons across Tessera’s broad landscaped patio.
The market, which will become a monthly activity at Tessera, was the brainchild of general manager Brooke Britton.
"I’m a huge farmers’ market freak and there’s really nothing in the Brandon area. We talked to our vendors and it spiraled from there."
Jeff Wolfe of Wolfe’s Produce in Riverview unloaded flats of fruits and veggies from the bed of his pickup, arranging them on folding tables under a sun canopy. The Florida growing season over, he arrayed pineapples and raspberries and heaps of grapes from Mexico. Yvette Rouse, the executive director of Sweetwater, took a different tack, talking up the benefits of sustainable crops like moringa and sweet potato leaves.
No one seemed overly eager to plow through a fistful of moringa, but for Rouse that’s not necessarily the point. A farmers’ market at a senior living facility is untrammeled ground, but something worth pursuing.
"Sweetwater is trying to do a lot more outreach," Rouse said. "Our seniors need good, healthy food, too."
Tessera chef Jerome Mienand was on hand offering tastes of Greek quinoa salad and fresh berry summer salad before launching into a Thai wrap cooking demo.
It’s not easy:
"What are these little seeds?"
"It’s called quinoa."
Despite the grain’s Omega-3 fatty acids and essential amino acids, the biggest market draw was St. Petersburg’s Working Cow Homemade Ice Cream, the salted caramel outperforming everything else, with Wolfe’s Georgia peaches a close second.
"Oh my goodness, look at those peaches," Jane Beck, a fit 73, exclaimed. "I was raised on fresh fruit."
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.