ORANGE PARK – The town’s farmer’s market has been a staple on Sundays since 2012, and 2020 already is on track to becoming be the best year yet for the local marketplace of produce and art.
The first Orange Park Farmer’s Market served as a way to provide local sellers a way to sell and local buyers a way to buy local. It was a resounding success because almost eight years later, it’s bigger than ever. The market manager, Emily Dockery, said there are a number of factors behind that success, but one thing stands out above the rest: community.
“People want to support local artists, farmers and businesses and the market makes that easy,” Dockery said. “When you shop at the farmer’s market, you’re truly supporting local businesses and it strengthens the community the market has built.”
Dockery has lived in Clay County her entire life, but she didn’t begin working for the town of Orange Park until 2016. The February Farmer’s Market of that year was the first under Dockery’s guidance, but she said that day was smooth sailing because of the successful foundation laid by the manager before her.
Taking over the position didn’t require any major changes to the market, but rather, small tweaks to a refined formula. One of the most important chances Dockery brought to the event was making every vendor sell homemade or homegrown products. She also opens the market twice a month – on the first and third Sunday – instead of just once.
Since the changes were implemented years ago, the market has continued to grow into Clay County’s largest farmer’s market. It’s also the only market that accepts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a governmental assistance program that gives people a monthly debit card to buy nutritious food like locally-grown produce at a farmer’s market.
“That’s something we’re really proud of,” Dockery said.
Dockery is also proud of the market’s compatibility with Fresh Access Bucks.
“The way that works is say you want to come in and spend $10 on your EBT card,” Dockery said. “I will give you $10 Fresh Access Bucks to be used on Florida-grown progress.
“It’s really cool because it benefits the consumers because they can have more buying power and access to fresh produce, but it directly benefits the Florida farmers as well so it’s a really great program.”
The backbone of the farmer’s market lies in the more than 100 vendors, according to Dockery. The farmers, some who come from as far as Palatka and Starke, artisans, crafters and others like the food trucks that occupy the event, are what keep people coming back.
“To have a good farmer’s market, you have to have good farmers,” Dockery said. “It’s in the name. Our farmers are the best as are the rest of our vendors. They’re great people and they’re great at what they do and that’s why people keep coming back.”
Dockery said one of the things she’s most proud of in the Orange Park Farmer’s Market is the community the vendors foster between each other. Because of the relationship between vendors, the sense of community at the event extends from consumer to vendor.
The average attendance of any given farmer’s market is 1,000 people, according to Dockery, with as many as 2,000 coming during peak seasons. Some of the consumers peruse the stands of groceries like produce, sauces, bread, dips, deserts and jellies.
If you’re not in the market for food though, vendors sell things like windchimes, jewelry, art and even oddities like embroidered toilet paper.
If fancy toilet paper and locally-grown vegetables sound like something you need in your home, you can visit orangeparkmarket.com for information about the farmer’s market, including dates and times and special events like a dog-themed Barkfest in the Spring. Dockery updates the website the Friday before each market with the names of each vendor that will be present.