Lake Ella Growers’ Market
Growing a Community, Organically
(page 3 of 4)
Originally open only in spring and summer, the market expanded to year-round as more farmers had products to sell, and demand grew. Simmons is one of the growers who sells at the market year-round. Winters in the Eastern Panhandle/Big Bend region are generally mild enough to grow many cool-season crops, including collards, kale, turnips, beets, lettuces, radishes and kohlrabi. Other growers who don’t plant across the seasons come only when they have something to sell or when they have a surplus.
Bob and Lisa Burnham of Sycamore Gardens sell garlic, blueberries, pears and persimmons in season. They’ve been vendors at The Growers’ Market for eight years, describing it as “friendly and fun in a beautiful setting.”
“It’s a nice way to participate in the community, to meet and support local growers and learn where your food comes from,” Lisa Burnham said. “And we all love to talk.”
Depending on the time of year, shoppers can find fresh eggs, candles, soap, freshly caught Gulf shrimp, cheeses and meat, in addition to seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs. Mac Gates, of Mac’s Honey and Bee Farm in Havana, is usually there with local raw honey, beeswax candles and an assortment of tie-dyed T-shirts. Ron and Annie Layton of Little Eden Heirloom Farm in Crawfordville sell eggs, bread and baked goods at Lake Ella and at the farm stand at their home. They, too, have CSA partners who get a bag of surprises each week. Owen River Farm has unusual vegetables such as Dragon Tongue Bean, technically a wax bean but more like a green bean. Ripe City Urban Farm, formerly known as Ten Speed Greens, sells vegetables and gives away advice.
“We want to educate people about sustainable farming in an urban environment,” Ripe City’s David Newman said.
One of the most familiar features of the market sells vegetables, falafel and Middle Eastern baked goods. Artzi’s Organic Veggies and Pita Queen Authentic Israeli Falafel, operated by Israel and Yocheved Artzi of Thomasville, Georgia, also supplies New Leaf and Whole Foods markets with Pita Queen products from its organically certified kitchen. While the prepared food isn’t exactly local — the dates and halvah are imported from Israel — it is organic, and the produce is both organic and local.
Abby Vail, on her first trip to The Growers’ Market, was persuaded by a sample to buy a falafel wrap.
“It’s different than anything I’ve seen in Tallahassee,” Vail said. “I like having a unique food option. I may have to make this my new Wednesday stop.”
On occasion, area chefs present cooking demonstrations featuring produce available at the market, including the chefs from Kool Beanz, Cypress, the state Department of Agriculture, the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Service and Kaiser University’s culinary program.
In addition, The Growers’ Market accepts SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, as well as WIC benefits for Women, Infants and Children. Many of the other area produce markets also accept food benefits, an effort spearheaded by the state to make fresh food available to people of all income levels and to alleviate the problem of “fresh food deserts.”
“As the only seasonal market and the only totally organic produce market, we feel we have added value,” Taylor said. “A lot of people are looking for sustainably grown food that is locally grown, and they know they can find it here. If they go to another market in January and see tomatoes, they might not know that tomatoes don’t grow in January here. They can trust what they find here to be seasonal.”
To ensure the produce is both organic and seasonal, Taylor visits every farm that sells at The Growers’ Market, verifying it was grown on the premises using organic methods.
“It’s not certification but it is verification,” Taylor said.