Westbrook, who founded the farm in 2014, says she cameup with the urban farming idea based on her love of community outreach. The 57-year-old Jacksonville native wanted her neighboring residents to have access to fresh food without having to leave their community to get it.
“Urban farming provided the technology that allowed us to bring farming into the Atlantic Beach community without much farm space. Our model is really set up to demonstrate what this new technology can do,” Westbrook said.
Each day, this Controlled Environment Agriculture technology is what enables her plants to grow in vertically-stacked layers across the greenhouse. Using a rotating system, the plants on one side begin to germinate, while the ones on the other sidehave flourished and will soon be ready for harvest.
Before COVID-19, Westbrook and her team were selling most of this produce commercially to area restaurants and within their own farm market. They rented out the farm for events, but as of March, the coronavirus forced them to shift gears.
“We lost 70% of our revenue, and had to figure out a way to reinvent the business,” Westbrook said. “We started to expand our retail market and wanted to add culinary offerings. [Hartinger]was the first person I thought of because he is not only one ofthe best chefs in Jacksonville, but an amazing ambassador for the Slow Food Movement, which supports and recognizes local food cultures and traditions.”
Now, Hartinger and Westbrook work together to produce and craft delicious, locally-grown meals for the community to enjoy. Some of the meals Hartinger has prepared include homemade roasted chicken gnocchi, roast chicken cassoulets, deviled sea scallops and white bean ravioli. Atlantic Beach Urban Farms’ Farm Market shop also sells cheese, charcuterie, and imported oils and vinegars from artisan farms in Italy (all of which Westbrook has visited).
To come up with sustainable meal ideas, Hartinger says he must first determine what’s available from the greenhouse and farmers, and then he gets creative. He’ll incorporate customer demands using the available tools, with seasonal produce at hand.
“We’re trying to grow our own food, and if we can’t grow it we’re trying to source it as responsibly as possible,” Hartinger explained. “I try to keep things super-approachable, but use techniques I’ve learned throughout the past two decades to help focus on the representation of the season. I want to give [community members] something they’re never going to forget.”