Lake Ella Growers’ Market
Growing a Community, Organically
(page 2 of 4)
The crowd that shops at The Growers’ Market, behind Lake Ella’s Black Dog Community Coffee House and the American Legion, is no different: Birkenstocks and work boots, polo shirts and tie-dyed T-shirts, sundresses and office attire, college students and retirees. Often, a musician provides entertainment. Most of the customers are regulars, giving the gathering under the moss-draped oaks a family-reunion vibe.
“The location is absolutely gorgeous,” retiree Dot Skofronick said. “I get to see my friends and there’s a surprise in my bag every week.”
Skofronick participates in a Community Sustainable Agriculture program. Customers pay in advance for a bag of groceries — whatever is in season. On this particular day, Jack Simmons of Crescent Moon Organic Farm in Sopchoppy had loaded her bag with kale, arugula, lettuce, new potatoes, sunflower microgreens, mung bean sprouts, green onions and green garlic.
“When I buy lettuce in the grocery store, I have to use it within two days,” Skofronick said. “This lasts longer.”
The “shelf life” of the market’s produce tends to be longer than grocery store produce because it was picked that morning. When new potatoes are in season, Simmons tells customers to cook them that night for best flavor. “You don’t have to eat them tonight, but you do need to cook them,” he says.
In addition to selling to walk-up patrons, Simmons has 10 or 12 CSA customers such as Skofronick. He said that’s as many as he can handle with his solo operation. He has help from time to time in form of “WWOOFers” — Willing Workers on Organic Farms — who come to learn organic gardening in exchange for room and board. Some stay a day or two, some a few weeks. He began baking different varieties of bread a few years ago, when a thunderstorm-filled summer prevented him from harvesting his crops. He also pickles vegetables and makes jams and jellies from his fruits. If the garden doesn’t fill the CSA bags, the pantry does. Jams, jellies, pickles and dried fruits and vegetables have long been ways to preserve foods, and Simmons experiments with them regularly. But he shuns other preservation methods.
“I don’t eat frozen food,” he said.
Although the market caters to consumers who want organic, seasonal food, it was created to serve the people who grow it.
A mission needing a market
The FAMU Small Farms Program, which Taylor directs, focuses on organic living, which includes organic farming and animal production. It sponsors workshops and training sessions on various aspects of growing food and eating seasonally. Its mission is to help underserved agricultural populations, including farm families and laborers, and assist them in attaining sustainable lifestyles. At one such session in 2002, the idea of The Growers’ Market emerged.
“The growers said to me, ‘We really need a different kind of market,’” Taylor said. “So we began to try different things.”
At first it seemed Sunday would be the best day, but that was discarded because it was the only day off for most of the growers. Wednesday was the eventual choice. Then, finding a suitable location was a problem.
“We talked to several churches but they weren’t interested. Today, I think they would be,” she said.
Carla Reid, owner and proprietor of the Black Dog Community Coffee House, jumped at the chance to help the market find a home at Lake Ella. She put Taylor in touch with the leadership of the Sauls-Bridges American Legion Post 13, which owns the property, and a deal was struck.
“I love having the market here,” Reid said. “These are our people.”
Reid opened the Black Dog 19 years ago, while working on her doctorate in humanities at Florida State University. The market boosts her business on Wednesdays, she said, and lends it a personality that she likes. She recently became a vendor, too, selling Not Your Mama’s Pops, a variety of frozen concoctions made at her second location, Black Dog on the Square, at Railroad Square.
She is also an adjunct professor at FSU, teaching a course in food ethics. Promoting sustainable living and seasonal eating is a logical extension of her teaching.
“People have a screwed up notion of seasons,” she said. “It’s kind of like the idea of a summer sweater. It doesn’t exist here in Tallahassee.”