Lake Ella Growers’ Market
Growing a Community, Organically
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Almost every day in Tallahassee, shoppers can find a produce market where rows of vendors sell colorful vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers. The offerings can include artisan cheeses and bread, local honey and fresh eggs. Some days, shoppers have multiple markets to choose from. On Saturdays, Market Square and Frenchtown have produce markets and, from March through November, the Downtown Marketplace also is open.
Most of the vendors who use natural and organic farming practices advertise it on their booths. It might be in the name of the farm or in a description of the fruits and vegetables available that day. But it’s a “buyer beware” situation: At most markets, there’s no guarantee the produce was organically grown, or even that the vendors grew it themselves. Buying wholesale produce and reselling it at local markets is common throughout the region. So shoppers who want organic produce get to know their farmers and shop at the same ones regularly, such as Turkey Hill Farm at Market Square.
But the Wednesday afternoon market at Lake Ella is like none of the others. Officially known as The Growers’ Market, the Lake Ella market offers organically grown produce that was cultivated by the farmers who are selling it. Guaranteed. Why? Because The Growers’ Market is selling much more than organically grown produce. It’s also selling a concept, educating people to eat a diet of foods in season, to be good stewards of natural resources and to embrace a sustainable lifestyle. In short, to tread lightly upon Mother Earth, for our own health and for the benefit of future generations.
“We’re the only seasonal market and the only all-organic produce market in the state,” said Dr. Jennifer Taylor, an associate professor of agriculture at Florida A&M University and coordinator of the Small Farms Program in the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences. “If you’re going to grow food, why not grow healthy food? Why put poisons and toxins in your body?”
A Growing Interest
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic food sales have steadily increased since the organic food industry began tracking them more than three decades ago. Over the past 10 years, demand for organic food has risen by double digits each year, signaling a shift from a lifestyle choice for a small percentage of consumers to being the choice, at least occasionally, of a majority of Americans. A national survey by the Hartman Group and Food Marketing Institute in the early 2000s found that two-thirds of shoppers bought organically grown foods from time to time.
The Nutrition Business Journal reported that in 2012, produce accounted for 43 percent of U.S. organic food sales, followed by dairy (15 percent), packaged/prepared foods (11 percent), beverages (11 percent), bread/grains (9 percent), snack foods (5 percent), meat/fish/poultry (3 percent), and condiments (3 percent).
The Organic Trade Association estimates that 93 percent of organic food sales occur at conventional grocery stores, most of which have an organic or “green” section, and natural food stores and chains. The other 7 percent, OTA says, comes through farmers’ markets and marketing channels other than retail stores, such as the Red Hills Online market. The growth in the number of markets locally selling organic produce reflects a national trend. In 1994, when the USDA began tracking direct sales of produce through farmers’ markets, there were 1,755. By 2013, the USDA counted more than 8,100.
The interest in organic food and sustainable gardening and farming transcends age, gender, socio-economic status and stereotypes. Surveys show that consumers prefer organically produced food because of their concerns regarding health, the environment and animal welfare, and they show a willingness to pay the price premiums established in the marketplace.