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Heading for the Blue Zone: Local farmers markets join project to encourage healthier lifestyles

Oct 25, 2017 01:41PM

Visiting your local farmers market just might inspire you to be more conscientious about your everyday lifestyle and overall well-being.

Local Roots Farmers Markets—which operates nine markets in Lee County—recently became a Blue Zones Recognized organization, part of a global movement that encourages communities to implement healthful mindsets and habits that may extend and improve residents’ longevity and quality of life. Local Roots is the first in the state to receive the recognition for its category.

“They’re working with the Blue Zones Project to help make healthy choices easier by becoming a tobacco-free farmers market; offering healthy, nutritious food options; discouraging the consumption of sugary-sweetened beverages; and promoting volunteer opportunities,” explains Blue Zones Project Southwest Florida Engagement Lead Kate Walter.

The expanding initiative grew out of the bestseller by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner. In The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Buettner focused on communities where people live active lives well into their 100s to discern what disparate places from Italy to California to Japan have in common. Nine core principles were distilled as the common denominators that could be applied in other communities to stave off preventable chronic disease and boost emotional wellness.

In Southwest Florida, the Blue Zones Project was launched by NCH Healthcare System in 2015, and more than 400 organizations and 16,180 residents have signed up, says Walter. Most are based in Collier County; a dozen organizations are in Bonita Springs and Estero, including the Bonita Bay community.

Local Roots co-owner Jean Baer read The Blue Zones book and its sequel. Joining Blue Zones “just solidifies our commitment to promoting healthier lifestyles,” Baer says. “We’ve signed the dotted line and it holds us to a level of accountability to do certain things.” The first two Blue Zones markets will be at the Bonita Springs and Coconut Point locations.

More than 60 percent of the vendors have pledged to join the movement; only 25 percent were required. More bicycling racks, cooking demonstrations using Florida produce and supporting the Lakes Park community garden are some of the commitments Local Roots has made. Most complex was meeting federal regulations for accepting food stamps to help give low-income residents who live in food deserts better access to fresh food.

Giving back to the community is already a hallmark of Local Roots’ philosophy. Last year, for example, 5,000 pounds of produce, baked goods and seafood that wouldn’t carry over from one market to the next were donated by vendors, picked up by volunteers and distributed through the F.I.S.H. of SanCap pantry. Food that is not consumable by humans is donated to CROW (Care and Rehabilitation of Wildlife) on Sanibel to feed injured wildlife undergoing treatment. “It’s a full-circle program in that almost all of the food goes to use,” says Baer.
Shoppers can pick up a pledge sheet to join the movement and commit to lifestyle changes such as establishing a walking schedule; incorporating more beans, fruits and vegetables into their diets; and developing a positive circle of friends or social network.

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New Captiva Island Farmers Market

The Captiva Island Farmers Market will become Local Roots’ ninth market in Lee County when it opens for its first season December 19 at the entrance to South Seas Island Resort.

The resort approached the Local Roots co-owners with the idea of providing the market as an amenity during the busy tourist season. The Local Roots co-owners both live on Sanibel Island and have had a long involvement in business and the community. Jean Baer served as the South Seas recreation director for 14 years. Betsy Ventura and her husband, Marcel, own island-based YOLO Watersports, and her mother is a year-round Captiva resident.

The Captiva Island Farmers Market will be held each Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., through April 3. “Having the market on Tuesdays gives residents and visitors another market shopping day other than Sundays on Sanibel,” says Ventura. Local Roots laid down its own roots at the popular Sanibel Island Farmers Market a decade ago.

Ventura notes that, with 20 vendors, Captiva is their smallest market, “but our lineup of vendors is packed with quality. We have a great balance that will be sure to please everyone.” She predicts golf carts and bikes will be the main modes of transportation to and from the market. “Each market seems to develop its own unique personality, so we’re excited to watch Captiva grow into its own,” Ventura says.

South Seas Island Resort is located at 5400 South Seas Plantation Road on Captiva Island. The market will be situated outside the resort guard gate in a parking lot near Doc Ford’s restaurant. It is open to the public.

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Written by Cathy Chestnut, a freelance writer and frequent contributor to TOTI Media who explores the people and places that make Southwest Florida, her hometown stomping grounds, unique.
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