Palatka’s riverfront development is well underway, but a local business partner has his own idea for drawing a crowd to the St. Johns River.
Luke Watkins, whose family operates Black Hog Farm, envisions a weekly farmers market that goes beyond fresh produce. Watkins said he hopes to create a smaller version of Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market by including local artists, musicians and food trucks.
“I want to be still focused on farmers because this is an agricultural community,” Watkins, 28, said. “But again, if you just have the farmers here, the draw will be less.”
Although he hasn’t begun securing vendors, Watkins said the city has approved the market to take place on Saturdays. Vendors would be able to sell their products on a stretch that runs from just south of Memorial Bridge to the riverfront amphitheater.
Watkins, who is primarily responsible for the organization of the market, said the city of Palatka has been fully supportive of the concept.
“I think the most important part that the city can offer is (to) show their support,” Watkins said, “that they’re allowing it to happen on public property and not (putting) up all kinds of red tape that we have to go through.”
Sam Deputy, the president of Downtown Palatka, Inc., said a market would only add to the riverfront revitalization that the city is working toward completing.
“Our waterfront is going to be a great location with all the changes that have gone on,” he said. “I think it’s going to bring a great dimension to our city.”
According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, agriculture and related industries generate roughly 41 precent of jobs in Putnam County.
Wayde Alford, a citrus and vegetable farmer in Pomona Park, said he’s participated in other markets where the management doesn’t seem to understand the needs of farmers. He said he’ll be interested in seeing which farms participate in the market and how the vendor contracts will be handled.
Watkins said he hopes that the market will raise awareness about the farmers who have long been the building blocks of the city, while also showing that Palatka “isn’t just a drive-through town.”
“There’s going to be a lot to do in Palatka,” Watkins said, “and this is going to be one of the many things that we’ll be able to offer.”