Spotlight: Freshly farmed and fantastic

It’s been a long, hot summer in Southwest Florida.

And the end of summer here always means two things — cooler weather and lots of fresh produce and seafood.

The Bonita Springs Lion’s Club is doing its best to appease locals and visitors, alike, opening its farmer’s market at the Promenade in Bonita Springs to the public, starting today, Oct. 17.

“It’s not a flea market,” stresses Eric Coffee, one of possibly 80 vendors, “it’s more of a farmer’s market with artisans. It’s unique in that it’s not just a bunch of people looking to make money. There’s upscale, quality produce. The emphasis isn’t so much on price here as it is quality.”

High praise coming from a vendor often falls on deaf ears, but Coffee, who sells seafood, maintains the high quality offerings have helped separate the Lion’s Club market from others in the area.

That was John Elliff’s plan when he started the market more than a decade ago. Prior to its current location at the Promenade near Bonita Bay, the Lion’s Club market was held at Bonita Springs Middle School.

Elliff says the school site worked well but vendors get more traffic at the new site on U.S. 41.

“We’re expanding this year with an additional 15 vendors,” he says. “We’re expanding our bakery. We’ll have people making cupcakes and bread. In winter, we’ll have fresh lobsters from Maine from a fisherman who catches them. He’ll boil them there, on the spot, if you want.”

Stone crab season opened this week and Elliff said fresh crab will be offered soon, as well.

Coffee sells a variety of seafood, all from the United States or Caribbean countries. Nothing from China or Asia, he said. Grouper, shrimp, snapper, whole fish and even cuttlefish are sold at Coffee’s station.

“It’s pretty eclectic, not like a retail seafood market,” he says. “I bring in muscles from Washington state. They’re not exactly cheap, but people like them.”

In addition to fresh food items, the Lion’s Club Market also offers jewelry and small crafts. Market hours run from 7 a.m. to noon, each Saturday, through May 2010. Starting Nov. 11, the market will also be open from 7 a.m.-noon on Wednesdays, but serving only produce and seafood.

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