Any student who likes to eat fresh produce and support the local community should look no further than FGCU’s Farmers Market. Sponsored by Student Government, the Farmers Market is on the campus library lawn from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every other Tuesday. Farmers markets offer people the opportunity to purchase their produce at a lower price than at the supermarket. The markets also offer small-business owners a great opportunity to sell their product. The Farmers Market at FGCU is much like any other farmers market, not only showcasing produce, but including vendors of handmade soaps, oils, jewelry and clothing.
To sell at the FGCU market, the business must be legally registered. Being registered shows credibility and allows FGCU to not have to charge the vendors a fee, which is beneficial to them as small-business owners.
The Farmers Market has been in the works for almost three years now, but it really got started last year. It used to take place once a month in the North Lake auxiliary lot. However, SG’s director of sustainability, Uzair Iqbal, saw big potential in it, increased its frequency to every other week and moved it to the library lawn.
“Students had been inspired for a while about the idea of a farmers market,” Iqbal said. “There has been a good response from students and businesses.”
Eldridge Rolle, the produce supplier, said that of the seven markets he serves in Southwest Florida, FGCU is easily one of his top markets.
“I’ve seen tremendous support from the FGCU community,” Rolle said. “I started out bringing just some of my produce, and now I bring my whole repertoire.”
Rolle’s repertoire includes 95 percent local produce while in season — from October to April — and about 35 percent is organic. He says that tomatoes are his biggest seller, but he also brings whatever he is able to find fresh that week, which will typically include strawberries, kale and other leafy greens, zucchini, yellow squash, avocado, pineapple and eggplant, to name a few.
Rolle moved to the United States from the Bahamas in 1983 and got into produce after working construction. When the market went down in 2008, his father-in-law asked him what he was going to do next. He said that when an economy goes down, there are three things that will always remain profitable: prostitution, alcohol and food. Rolle chose to go with food and has never turned back.
Iqbal and his team have worked hard to ensure they source produce locally, to support the economy in Southwest Florida. “We get all of our produce from Mr. Eldridge. He’s been a great partner,” Iqbal said. Iqbal is on track to graduate next spring with his degree in environmental studies with a minor in interdisciplinary studies. He would like to go back to his home country of Pakistan to help solve its environmental waste problems. As FGCU’s director of sustainability, the farmers market has been one of his favorite projects.
Rolle and Iqbal both shared their excitement in being a part of a program that has grown so much and continues to grow. Rolle says that by the end of last year, he was doing up to 150 transactions in the four hours that the market is set up.
The next date for the farmers market will be Tuesday, Sept. 22, on the Cohen Center lawn due to scheduling conflicts with the Library lawn. This day will also be SG Day, a day to go out and meet your SG staff. Going forward, every other Tuesday, it will be on the Library lawn.
Students are encouraged to bring cash. Although Mr. Rolle does accept all major credit cards, other vendors may not. Anyone who “likes” the FGCU Farmers Market Facebook page and attends the market can get a free tote bag.
Uzair is currently looking for more coordinators to help with the farmers market. Any interested students can reach out to him at [email protected]
If anybody is interested in other farmers markets in the area, other locations include Third Street South Farmers Market in downtown Naples, year-round from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays, Koreshan State Park starting Oct. 4 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday, Village Walk in Bonita Springs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Saint Monica’s Episcopal Church in Naples starting Wednesdays Oct. 7, and year-round at the Collier County Courthouse garage parking lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays.