By Hannah Wallace
When the Phillippi Farmhouse Market debuted in January 2010, 18 vendors set up shop every Wednesday through May in the grassy easternmost section of Phillippi Estate, less than one mile north of Stickney Point Road. On a good day, they hoped for 1,400 visitors.
On Oct. 5, the market opens the 2022-2023 season with 56 vendors — almost exclusively southwest Florida-based — and an expected 3,500-plus visitors per week.
“When I first came, we thought we were doing good if we parked 700 cars,” said Fred Whitehouse, who with his wife, Grace, has been a leading volunteer organizer with the market since the very beginning. “Now we frequently do 1,400.” Still, it remains an all-volunteer endeavor, an almost unheard-of undertaking for a market its size.
Phillippi Farmhouse Market (its official name, though the sign still labels it a “farmers market”) began 12 years ago as the brainchild of third-generation citrus grower Tim Brown, who wanted a way to further advocate for locally grown food. A year after its inception, the nonprofit Friends of Sarasota County Parks (FoSCP) joined as a leadership partner, and John McCarthy, then director of the county parks department, suggested the market’s name and mission: to raise funds for the renovation of the 1916 Edson Keith Farmhouse, the oldest structure on the 60-acre Phillippi Estate.
Nowadays, the market’s wares include produce and pantry items, arts and crafts, plants and flowers, as well as 13 options for on-site meals and snacks — from empanadas to acai smoothie bowls to the famous Amish donuts, which regularly generates a line stretching well around the market. This year’s new offerings include soaps, paella and Caribbean pies. There’s also live music.
Whitehouse, who bears much of the responsibility for choosing vendors from a long list of applicants, emphasizes what he calls “browse appeal.”
“There are people who come every week to shop, others come to browse,” he said. “We have young moms with baby carriages. A lot of people come to walk their dogs. We don’t want people with water softeners, car dealers, or AC companies.”
And while some smaller vendors are happy just maintaining a weekly presence, others have used the market to launch larger endeavors. Jim and Pam Pulsifer, both retired, only began selling their hummus and baba ganoush at the market in October 2020. They didn’t even know what kind of tent they needed, and asked Whitehouse for recommendations. Their first week in business, they sold 24 8-ounce containers.
“I was like, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’” Jim remembers.
Last season, between Phillippi and the Venice Farmers markets, one-week sales of their Authentically Lebanese brand averaged well over 300 units, peaking at 379. This summer, their daughter Lauren suggested contacting Morton’s Markets; “next thing we knew” a sales deal had happened, said Jim. Authentically Lebanese hummus and baba ganoush are now on shelves at Morton’s locations on Siesta Key and Southside Village, in addition to their regular tents at the Venice and Phillippi markets.
Despite that rapid success, the Pulsifers don’t plan on expanding much beyond their current demands. For one thing, they’d like to keep their proprietary recipes — handed down through Pam’s Lebanese family — to themselves.
“We’re 60 years old. We’re just enjoying it,” said Jim. “This is exactly what we were looking for.”
In fact, while raising money remains a worthwhile pursuit — both for the vendors and the market’s nonprofit roots — the Phillippi Farmhouse Market mission now just as frequently boils down to community. It’s one of the most successful donation sites for the SunCoast Blood Centers bloodmobile, garnering 261 units of blood last season alone. And through partnerships with multiple animal rescue organizations over the years, Whitehouse credits the market with the adoption of 125 dogs and cats.
To date, the market has also raised more than $300,000 for the Keith Farmhouse, but Whitehouse and the rest of his all-volunteer team ultimately don’t have a specific fund-raising figure in mind.
“We’re not really worried about it. The market needs to exist anyway,” he said. “Some people come and sit and listen to the music — they don’t buy a thing. And that’s OK! They talk and laugh, and they’re having a good time. It’s like some people’s living room. And that’s a component that’s not related to dollars and cents.”