BY CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
BOKEELIA, Fla.—Saturday mornings in Bokeelia (near Ft. Myers), the FruitScapes farmers market is the place to be. It’s a community affair featuring Bea’s authentic Salvadoran food, FruitScape’s fruits trees, Pine Island Tropical’s organic fruits and vegetables including Momma Donna’s breads, jams, salsa, and more. Momma Donna is a Martha Stewart American Made Winner.
Every Saturdays, Gary and Donna (Momma Donna) Schneider harvest their organic greens, herbs, and fruits to bring to the market. They have a 16-acre organic farm a mile from FruitScapes.
“I have been part of this market for 18 years,” Donna said. “It’s a family operated business. We run it as a cooperative. Everything is local.”
In 2015, one of Martha Stewart’s production managers spent the night on nearby Captiva Island. The friend she was staying with had some Momma Donna jam. She liked it. She visited the market and wanted to write an article for Martha Stewart about it.
“When they decided to write the article, they asked me to send my food into the test kitchen,” Schneider said. “If they didn’t like the food, they weren’t going to do the article. About three weeks later, we got a phone call. They told us to save the date of November 15 because we won the American Made Award! They flew us to Manhattan, and we spent three days with Martha Stewart attending the American Made Seminar. “
Just behind the Pine Island Tropicals booth rests retired school teacher Bea Wagner’s kitchen. Originally from El Salvador, her pupusas, tacos, tamales, and homemade ice cream are a big draw at the market.
Between market days, the 10-acre FruitScapes operates as a fruit tree nursery. Their specialties are mango and avocado trees, and they sell a lot of citrus trees. They are continually grafting, doing air layerings, and planting from seed,
“We have two busy seasons,” said Marshall Nathanson, who is being mentored in the business by owners Steve Cucura and Jesse Avalos. “One is when we have lots of part-time visitors during the wintertime. Even more traffic comes in during mango season. The height of that is the second week of July when we have Mango Mania.”
“Also, there are so many first time home buyers in Southwest Florida,” he said. “Everyone wants to have an avocado and a mango tree in their yard, so they come to us.
Customer Louis Paris was waiting to buy mangoes—Pine Island has the best, he said. “I used to sell them. Now I eat them.”