I can't remember the last time I saw Ms. Libby.
Toward the end she only worked a day or two a week at Farmers Market, coming in, I imagine, more to see and be seen than to grind out a shift on the line. Those days were behind her, back in the first few decades of her life in this Fort Myers restaurant's kitchen.
Toward the end Olivia Sheppard Williams, as the outside world knew her, served more as a reminder. She may not have cleaned, sliced and fried the okra that day, but she taught the cook who did.
Ms. Libby died June 14 at the age of 87. She spent the last 43 of her years as a fixture at this fixture, as essential to the 67-year-old Farmers Market as its cornbread, as mellow and honey-sweet as its tea.
Co-owner Betsy Barnwell is a relatively new fixture. She wanders the dining room in a blond pony tail, pushing in chairs and clearing stray menus. She greets her many regulars by name: teachers, lawyers and law enforcement officers who've been coming to Farmers Market since before Mrs. Barnwell was born.
She may be "new," but she's preserved this restaurant's traditions deliciously.
Barnwell was Ms. Libby's biggest cheerleader. She's been a champion for her whole Farmers Market team, from the servers of 20-plus years to the cashiers and cooks who've been here even longer...
Celebrities Share Their Favorite Spots in the SouthTimes - Deon Sanders - Time July 26, 2018
Farmers Market in Fort Myers, Fla., has some of the best soul food I’ve ever had. It’s a must every time I go back home.
Farmers Market Restaurant: I recently reviewed this place, but that won't stop me from singing its praises as often as I can. The 67-year-old Farmers Market is the oldest restaurant in Fort Myers for a reason: It's delicious, fresh and handmade. It's long-simmered collard greens and flaky, scratch-baked pies. It's fried chicken and cornmeal-crusted okra and gooey macaroni and cheese. It's comfort on a plate. And I can't get enough.
(2736 Edison Ave., Fort Myers; 239-334-1687; farmersmarketrestaurant.com)
The Farmers Market’s 65-year legacy is etched into the nicks of its counters and smoothed into its well-worn floors.
“If these walls could talk,” owner Betsy Barnwell said, looking around the bustling dining room one morning in late April. In 1952 Christine and R.V. Green opened this little restaurant in front of the State Farmers Market on Edison Avenue in Fort Myers.
Its purpose was simple: Feed the farmers and truck drivers delivering produce before they returned inland. That produce featured heavily on the menu, as slow-braised collard greens, stewed okra and strawberry pies.
“Nothing cost more than $1.50,” said Mary McCoy, a Farmers Market cashier since 1966.
Sixty-five years later, Farmers Market is an institution...
Sample southwest Florida's trademark tastes (Image slide 18 and 19)
People know the Farmers Market, too.
Open since 1952, it holds the title as the oldest restaurant in mainland Lee County. In 2014 longtime owner Bill Barnwell sold the Farmers Market to his son and daughter in-law, Chip and Betsy Barnwell.
The Barnwells are a rarity in the world of family restaurants.
For Chip and Betsy, the Farmers Market’s history is what hooked them.
“Chip was raised in this restaurant,” Betsy said. “Knowing we could come in and not start from scratch, that there are people here who will surround us with knowledge and have our backs, that’s what made us do it.”
"Best Value, Homestyle: The Farmers Market is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Lee County, located off the beaten path in an industrial area that you might drive right by. The no frills, homey eatery serves the same big portions and same great quality of a Southern Grandma, and has been doing so since the 1960's. The lunch and dinner specials don't come with one side; they come with THREE for $11.95. You also get a basket of corn bread and rolls. Enjoy comfort food like mashed potatoes and gravy, southern favorites like country fried steak, fried okra and collard greens. You'll need a "to go" box so you can save room for the sinfully good, homemade desserts and pies."
"When I took the Jean Le Boeuf pseudonym in late 1979, Farmers Market, founded back in 1952, was among the first places I reviewed. Back then the restaurant was a sturdy 27 years of age. Now it's surpassed 33 years. As I said in '79, this isn't the place for fine wines and exotic fare. This is the place for braised beef ribs ($3.15), fried mullet ($2.85), chicken livers and gizzards ($2.95). Looking to splurge? The most expensive item on the menu is the western T-bone at $7.95. If this place is around 30 years from now, I can only hope the fried chicken is still on the menu, the greens and black-eyed peas and stewed okra too. This is the kind of classic comfort food that will never go out of style. (2736 Edison Ave., Fort Myers; 334-1687)"
"Q: I live in Estero and I am from Maine. Corn fritters are a very popular item in New England but I have been unable to find them here ... Would you know of any place where I can find them??? — Pete S.
A: I hear they make corn fritters at Smoke’n Pit in North Fort Myers, and at the Sonny’s BBQ chain, though both call them “corn nuggets.” The only place I’ve eaten them here is the Farmers Market Restaurant, near downtown Fort Myers (2736 Edison Ave.; 334-1687; farmersmarketrestaurant.com). If you’ve not been, that place is a classic. It’s the oldest restaurant in Lee County, and tied for the oldest in Lee and Collier. It’s a homey joint, making Southern-style dishes. Great collards, awesome corn-bread muffins, sweet tea and sweeter servers. And, for some reason, Yankee-style corn fritters, to your heart’s content.
To Ask JLB email firstname.lastname@example.org, or message Le Boeuf at facebook.com/jeanleboeufSWFL or twitter.com/jeanleboeuf."
"If you want to see what Fort Myers, Florida was like before the strip malls and huge housing developments sprang up, head on over to the Farmers Market Restaurant. It is located just outside the downtown area, next to the State Farmers Market and has been in business since 1952. The house motto is, "Put the Taste of the South in Your Mouth!"
Open three meals a day, seven days a week, I like it best for lunch. They have a wide array of meats to choose from. The meatloaf is a thick slice of comfort food covered in brown gravy, but our favorite is the catfish. It is served boneless, the sweet, flaky meat encased in a delicate, thin crust. One of these days, we are going to get around to trying the ham hocks, the country fried pork chops or the chicken livers and gizzards.
No matter what meat you choose, you get three vegetables and they are well seasoned Southern classics. Among the vegetables we have enjoyed over the years is the limp, flavorful steamed cabbage, wickedly crunchy fried okra, real mashed potatoes, slightly bitter and earthy collard greens and not quite as bitter mustard greens. The best of the vegetables is the field peas. Cooked in pork juice, the peas are firm, irresistibly fresh, with snaps and small bits of pork mixed in.
Farmers Market Restaurant also makes their own pies. The chocolate or the coconut cream pies aren't world-class, but the meringues are tall, the fillings nice and custardy. The signature pie is the strawberry. Unlike most strawberry pies, which are runny or a gelatinous mess, the slices here hold together and are so densely packed with sweet fruit, it is impossible to take a bite without ending up with at least a quarter of a whole berry."