Fred & Grace Whitehouse
Phillippi Farmhouse Market
Tents filled with seasonal and fresh produce; artisans showcasing their crafts; the smell of freshly fried doughnuts wafting while live music fills the air. These are the sights, smell and sounds of the Phillippi Farmhouse Market, which takes place every Wednesday, October through April, rain or shine.
What market goers don’t see is any of the behind-the-scenes orchestration.
Enter Fred and Grace Whitehouse: outdoor enthusiasts, Venice residents and the rock star community volunteer couple responsible for a large portion of market coordination and management. Yes, you read that right: The Whitehouses, along with their team, volunteer their time not only the day of the market but throughout the year.
“Phillippi is the only all-volunteer market in the area,” says Grace Whitehouse. “We do not take any salaries from the proceeds of the rent; we just do it because we like to do it.”
The market, which was founded in 2010 by vendor and third-generation citrus grower Tim Brown, directly benefits the county park.
“The market’s main mission is to raise money for that old farmhouse,” says Fred Whitehouse. And it has, with contributions of more than $100,000 toward the restoration of the Keith Farmhouse, which turns 100 years old in November.
In the beginning, the Phillippi market was County-operated on a much smaller scale. But when the County decided it’d be better to outsource the money management they looked to The Friends of Sarasota County Parks organization and found Fred Whitehouse.
“They asked if anyone from The Friends could maybe take care of collecting the rent and making deposits, so I volunteered,” says Fred.
What started as a simple volunteer position on the market steering committee eventually turned into a management position at Fred’s suggestion. During the peak months of January through March, the team has counted up to 1,700 cars the day of the market.
“The way I look at Fred and Grace is that they were a gift from God to that market,” says Brown, who is the assistant market manager. According to Brown, the Whitehouses have a knack for creating a family atmosphere and camaraderie among the 50-plus vendors.
“One of the more important aspects of managing a farmers market is harmony among the vendors,” says Fred. “You have to get the right mix.”
Grace’s involvement came a year or two after Fred’s. She runs the Friends of Sarasota County–sponsored welcome tent, which beyond a general meet-and-greet for the market, provides information about local parks and other points of interest.
They both “pitch in” for the overall setup and breakdown of the market, which means their day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends around 4 p.m. But beyond the day-of operations, Fred and Grace are involved in everything from screening vendor applications to posting social media and blog updates. And—as the sticky-note model on their dining room table displays—overall market layout.
The Whitehouses’ success strategy also has to do with piquing interest beyond agriculture so market goers will want to stick around.
“We are a farmers’ market plus,” says Fred. More than 50 percent of the market area is agricultural and all vendors selling produce are required to grow a least a portion of what they are selling locally, but the farmers are purposely surrounded with food vendors and interesting artisans, like the glassblower who will be there this season. There is also always live music, which Fred considers essential.
Fred and Grace want only positive encounters between vendors and market goers and encourage the farmers and artisans to take off their sunglasses, get out of their seats, and talk to their customers and other vendors.
“The Phillippi market is a different type of market and I believe it is due to the way it is structured and managed,” says Brown. “It’s very rare that you find people that dedicated.”
Phillippi Farmhouse Market: 5500 S Tamiami Trl;