Local Farmers Markets Go Virtual

Virtual farmers markets make it easier than ever to eat healthy, locally grown food

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Treasure Coast Harvest brainchild of Stephen Wright and Catherine “Cat” Sheetz of Pueo Farms
Treasure Coast Harvest brainchild of Stephen Wright and Catherine “Cat” Sheetz of Pueo Farms.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 73 percent of Americans try to include locally grown foods in their diets. Vero Beach residents are no exception, judging from attendance at the Saturday farmers market on Ocean Drive, the popularity of local farm stands, and the sold-out farm-to-table dinners hosted by Schacht Groves. 

But what if you can’t get to the farmers market every Saturday, don’t have time to drive to multiple farm stands, or are homebound? Thanks to some enterprising agrarians in our community, the cream of the crop is just a mouse click away.  

For Catherine “Cat” Sheetz and Stephen Wright, owners of Pueo Farms, connecting farms to consumers seemed like a match made on the internet. After studying the success of online food hubs in Tallahassee and Hawaii, the couple began talking to other local farmers about teaming up to develop an online sales platform to serve the Treasure Coast community.   

Milk and Honeybell Bakery
Photo courtesy of Milk and Honeybell Bakery

“We tried to recruit those with the same philosophy of growing that we have,” says Sheetz, referring to farms that use natural fertilizing and composting methods. “We wanted to vet people who not only promote local food but also healthier food with the goal of feeding the community the best we can.” 

Birdie Hogan Farm
Photo courtesy of Birdie Hogan Farm

In 2020, Sheetz and Wright launched Treasure Coast Harvest, a virtual farmers market representing more than 22 purveyors of goods produced on the Treasure Coast. In the mood for squash blossoms or white eggplant? No problem! Need homemade mozzarella or microgreens for a special dish? Look no further! 

Open October 15 through mid-May, Treasure Coast Harvest offers a wide variety of lettuces, herbs, and vegetables from Pueo, Birdie Hogan, Pepper Trail, and Aunt Zorada farms; microgreens from Zesty Fox Farm; fresh pasta, sauces, and antipasto from Garden of Esther; cheeses and charcuterie items from Chef Lippe; raw honey from Papa Bees Honey and Beeswax; grass-fed beef from Birdie Hogan Farm; pasture-raised pork, poultry, and eggs from Fojtik Flatwoods Farm; freshly baked breads and muffins from Michael’s on 7th and Milk and Honeybell Bakery; sauces and rubs from Smokey Robinsons Spice Company; vegan dips and spreads from Giving Seed; coffee beans from Rio Coco Beans Coffee; assorted teas from Wang and Dickerson Tea; freshly squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, and citrus from Schacht Groves; granola from Cravings; chocolate and desserts from The Swedish Fika Factory; soap, bath, and body products from Carlsward Farms and Orchid Island Soap Company; oysters from Treasure Coast Shellfish; and mushrooms from Freedom Fungi. 

Wang and Dickerson Tea
Photo courtesy of Wang and Dickerson Tea

The online market opens every Thursday at 6 a.m. and closes Monday at 11:59 p.m. Orders are harvested by participating farmers on Tuesday and brought to Pueo Farms’ mobile walk-in cooler. All orders are then brought to one of two free pickup locations or delivered to your home for an $8 fee. Pickup takes place from 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays at Walking Tree Brewery in Vero Beach and on Wednesdays at Mash Monkeys Brewing Company in Sebastian. Home deliveries are made Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m.  

Chef Lippe dishes out delicacies
Chef Lippe dishes out delicacies.

In some communities, such as The Moorings, where there might be an abundance of orders, Sheetz sets up a table in the parking lot and personally distributes orders
to customers, just as she does at the breweries. Having that face-to-face connection with customers is important, she points out. “People are okay with buying their food online, but they’d like to meet the farmer who grows the food,”
she says.  

“I’m trying to educate people at same time,” Sheetz adds. “When I set up, I make sure to have samples on a table display. People not only ask about my own products, but also ask about local honey or products from other vendors.” That’s why, she says, she’s made it a point to learn about all the products and vendors Treasure Coast Harvest represents. “I want to be able to sell it as they would sell it and make sure that it gets the respect it deserves.” Fulfilling orders at local breweries has its pluses and minuses, Sheetz concedes. “People want to buy me beers, but I say ‘No, I have to function!’”

Chef Lippe
Photo courtesy of Chef Lippe

In addition to selling Pueo Farms’ products via Treasure Coast Harvest, Sheetz and Wright—along with most of their vendors—also participate in the weekly Vero Beach Farmers Market on Ocean Drive. “The oceanside farmers market is fantastic. We go every Saturday during our growing season, and our sales begin before 8 a.m. But it’s hard to make a living selling all our products in four hours,” says Sheetz, who, like many other local farmers, lacks her own on-site farm stand. “We wanted to make locally grown farm-fresh seasonal produce more available to the Treasure Coast community and give farmers another market space.” The e-commerce site, she says, “is great for small farms who can’t invest time and money in marketing, sales, and fulfillment. We do it for them.” 

Fojtik Flatwoods Farm
Photo courtesy of Fojtik Flatwoods Farm

At first, she says, they wondered how they would encourage people to buy products from a farmer online. “Then COVID hit, and people started calling us. It was the catalyst to getting the enterprise off the ground.”

When the pandemic closed the Vero Beach Farmers Market, participating vendors mobilized to keep it going by offering customers the ability to place orders online and pick them up at Riverside Theatre or have orders delivered to their doors. “It was quite an effort,” says Brittany Swartz, who has managed the market for 13 years. “The community wanted to keep our market vendors in business during their peak season, and it worked.”

Garden of Esther
Photo courtesy of Garden of Esther

When the market reopened, Rain and Oscar Lippe, owners of Chef Lippe, a purveyor of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie items, took over the e-commerce market and continue to fulfill online orders year-round for farm, gourmet, and artisanal products (click here). Orders must be placed before midnight on Thursday for Saturday pickup at the farmers market or delivery to your door. Delivery is free for orders over $100, and there is a $6 charge for orders under $100. 

“Some of our clients have been with us since the beginning of COVID,” says Rain Lippe, citing elderly people who might not be able to leave home. “If someone wants tricolor carrots or $5 worth of fresh corn, I go around to the vendors and get them the best deal I can.”

Whether selling their products online, at farm stands, at the weekly farmers market, and/or directly to restaurants and clubs, what’s clear is that local farmers support one another and depend upon the community to support them. They also take great pride in producing the best-quality products. 

When COVID shut down the Vero Beach Farmers Market temporarily, Steven Thompson and Brittany Swartz organized Farmers Market Drop-off. Photo by Jared Blais
When COVID shut down the Vero Beach Farmers Market temporarily, Steven Thompson and Brittany Swartz organized Farmers Market Drop-off. Photo by Jared Blais

“We all work together and want everyone to succeed,” says Britain Hogan, who left her job in finance to manage Birdie Hogan Farm with her father, Doyle, and was one of the first farmers Sheetz and Wright consulted in the development of Treasure Coast Harvest. “Our farm is only 10 miles from Central Beach, but far enough that people don’t always want to make the drive. The farmers market is great, but it’s only on Saturday. [The e-commerce site] is a very vital part of our sales because it gives people who might not otherwise be able to reach you the ability to get healthy food. It’s also nice to have a like-minded farmer sell your products.” 

Hogan, who raises grass-fed, grass-finished, and grain-free cattle that are never given hormones or antibiotics, says, “We put a lot of love into our products. It takes three years for an animal to become a steak!” 

“I’m all for it,” says Mark Smith, owner of Aunt Zorada Farm, about the ability to sell his abundant variety of produce online directly to consumers. Plus, he adds, it’s a good way to buy because the vegetables are handpicked the same day orders are fulfilled. “I always put the highest-quality produce in the box. You’re getting the cream of the crop.”

Local vendors are at the Vero Beach Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon. Photo by Jared Blais
Local vendors are at the Vero Beach Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon. Photo by Jared Blais

Seedlings:

1,200–2,400 people visit the Vero Beach Farmers Market each Saturday

182,559 acres of Indian River County is dedicated to agriculture—primarily pastures and ranges, followed by cropland and woodland*

There are 450 farms in Indian River County, 87 percent of which are family owned*

Most farms in Indian River County are 10–49 acres*

Citrus is the top crop* *USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture

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