by JENNIFER McCHAREN
Just west of I-295, broccoli and brussels sprout seedlings are getting ready for transplant. Once they have four true leaves they’ll be moved into the field here at Down to Earth Farm. Sixty days later, if everything goes according to plan, they’ll be ready to harvest.
Of course, working a brand-new organic farm (not certified), Brian Lapinski and his seedlings are somewhat at the mercy of the four winds, and the occasionally drenching rains they bring. “Two inches is considered a leaching rain,” he says, looking out over a puddled field. “That basically means all the nutrients, all the manure we’ve put in so far, have probably washed away.” The sandy soil on the farm, which is slowly being improved with organic material, cover crops and manure, drains very quickly.
Brian and Kristin Lapinski are part of a new generation of farmers, working to feed their community high-quality, locally and organically produced food. In Jacksonville, a city without much local-food infrastructure, that makes them very popular amongst a contingent of passionate locavores.
If you want to join the club, head out to the Beaches Green Market, held on Saturday from 2-5 pm at Jarboe Park in Neptune Beach. Down to Earth Farm isn’t harvesting yet, but other local growers, artists and farmers are selling their wares.
As the weather cools, expect more and more produce at the market. As founder Gretchen Ferrell explains, “Local crops are spared from the all-too-intense Florida summertime heat and they start producing again. That means abundance at the farmer’s market! It is just the beginning of this wonderful season that leads into an even more wondrous winter full of salad greens and broccoli.”
If veggies aren’t enough to fill your shopping basket, pick up some delicious, grass-fed, local beef from Ashlin Farms. Just a few miles west of the Lapinskis, Ashley Bailey and his wife Lindsey are raising black and red angus beef on 32 acres of gently rolling pasture.
One of the best ways to start eating closer to home is to start a garden yourself. To learn how, or to view a truly inspiring example, contact the Urban Garden Center, part of the Duval County Agricultural Extension office. Out on Commonwealth Road just past McDuff Avenue, Mary Puckett manages a demonstration garden and teaches gardeners how to grow vegetables.
While Jacksonville is still a difficult place to eat locally, there are delicious options cropping up (sorry). Nationwide, the increasing attention to local foods is rapidly creating markets, and making it possible for more people to return to the land.
How does eating locally make your life greener? Eating locally can utilize fewer fossil fuels in production and transport, of course, but the true benefits are deeper. Engaging in the process of growing food connects you to the place, the soil and the seasons that you call home. How can you ignore environmental degradation when you know what careful stewardship tastes like?
The experience of delicious and beautiful food from your home soil is radical. It can show you the beauty and fragility of the earth. It is an increased sensitivity to the environment, which can lead to other green-shifts in behavior. That is the most important reason to pay attention to local food.
a greener u
by JENNIFER McCHAREN