The modest farmers market project that blossomed into the centrepiece of Saturday mornings in Downtown Pensacola is celebrating its 14th anniversary.
On Saturday, May 15, shoppers at Palafox Market will enjoy live entertainment, activities for kids and giveaways. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, rain or shine, in Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza.
“We’re all looking forward to celebrating 14 years of Palafox Market,” said Sydney Barrow, market manager. “This market wouldn’t be what it is without our amazing vendors and the support of the community.”
This anniversary is especially meaningful because the market was closed last year from March to October due to Covid-19.
“Our vendors offer a variety of products like unique art, baked goods, fresh produce, live plants and so much more,” Barrow said. “These vendors took a big hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, so it has been great to have everyone back together.”
Palafox Market, coordinated by the Downtown Improvement Board, opened in 2006 with a strictly agricultural focus, giving about 25 local farmers a venue to offer their products to shoppers in the downtown area. It first met under the Interstate 110 overpass, and then a vacant lot, before finding its home in Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza.
Maria Pena said she brought her homemade soap and other handmade goods to Palafox Market in 2009 or 2010 after she and her husband retired.
“We were at the end of Palafox in a little lot.” Said Pena, who’s booth is called Lady PMOBug Natural Soaps. “There were eight, maybe nine, vendors, mainly a lot of vegetables and stuff like that. I was the only one making soap at the time. We’ve been doing it ever since. We’ve met so many nice people.”
In the beginning, the market was only open on Saturdays during harvest seasons.
“The DIB decided to make the market year-round when it was expanded to include other vendor types like bakers, jewelry makers, artists, etc.,” said Lissa Dees, the former executive director of the DIB. Dees recently went on to become the parking manager for the City of Pensacola.
“Once enough other vendors were part of the market, the DIB felt that it could be sustainable throughout the entire year and not just limited to spring and summer,” she said. “Ag vendors could still sell seasonal products in the fall and winter months, so it made sense.”
Today, as many as 8,000 people meander along the plaza’s redbrick walkway on the busiest of Saturdays. Customers might be sampling fresh tamales, buying local squash or perusing original works of art for sale by Pensacola artists.
The String Farm bluegrass band performs for donations in the center of the plaza near the MLK bust.
With current Covid-19 restrictions, there is space for 120 vendors at the market. Not only are all of the available spaces usually spoken for, but there is typically a waiting list.
There is always food ready to eat for sale, ranging from giant bags of popcorn and fried pork rinds to homemade pies and cakes. Many of the edible items are organic or otherwise aimed at a niche market, like gluten-free and keto-friendly baked good and specialty mustard.
The products offered at the market all come from within 100 miles of Pensacola.
Like Pena, many of the vendors are cottage entrepreneurs for whom the market represents much of their sales.
“Ninety-nine percent of my sales come from this market,” Pena said. “This market has been great for me.”
Amanda Wyant and Patricia Schrieber started New Roots Farm in early 2020, and they’ve been a part of Palafox Market since January. New Roots Farm grows organic micro-greens, like kale, purple kohlrabi and clover, sought for their dense nutrition when eaten raw.
Wyant, who lives in Navarre and makes the trip to Pensacola every Saturday, said Palafox Market puts her in contact with her target audience.
“It is a commitment, but it is absolutely worth it,” she said. “We tend to cater a little bit to people who are vegan or vegetarians, or are looking to improve their health.”
In 2020 Southern Living magazine named Palafox Market as the best farmer’s market in Florida. Palafox Market also consistently wins local awards in categories like “Best Farmer’s Market,” “Best Free Thing to Do,” and “Best Place to Buy Local Produce.”