by ANNA RABHAN
The Organic Trade Association reported 2008 growth in the organic sector of the food industry at 15.8 percent with conventional sector growth at between one and two percent. This huge hunk of organic “cheese” has prompted many retail giants to get in on the game, bringing with them exceptions to and variations on organic standards. So while you can now find some organic food products in mainstream stores, it may not necessarily be getting easier to find organic foods there that match your values. While stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market are certainly convenient, there are other options for those who would rather get their food from an accessible organic producer. Those options can be categorized as farmers markets; local farms, which can operate as pick-your-own, direct-to-consumer, Community Supported Agriculture or a combination of those arrangements; and food co-ops.
The number of farmers markets, as tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1994, had been climbing steadily until the nation saw a 13 percent spike between 2008 and 2009. Representative of the national trend, five of Jacksonville’s roughly 13 farmers markets opened in just the last few years. Some of them are part flea market and you will find wholesalers, so seek out the farmers and talk to them to find out which vendors are local and organic. The Jacksonville Farmers Market is the largest and oldest in town. Riverside Arts Market is very popular, due in part to the variety of experiences available. Beaches Green Market has some excellent local, organic vendors. These are just a few examples. A detailed list of farmers markets, including their websites, as well as a map showing their approximate locations is available under the “Jax Farmers Market” tab at www.annarabhan.com. The combination of one-stop-shopping, low prices and personal connection with the food producer make farmers market shopping a favorite choice of many in Jacksonville. Rhonda, from the Westside, says, “I have shopped the big farmers market on Beaver Street and have always gotten very good veggies there at good prices as well.”
Jacksonville is fortunate to be surrounded by a number of farms that use organic practices, some USDA Certified Organic and some not. Danette, from St. Augustine, chooses to buy directly from farms. “I enjoy the camaraderie,” she says. “I go down and talk to the farmers. They’re my friends… And we’ve brought our kids up doing that. It’s a way of life for us.” Farmers who opt for direct-to-consumer sales operate under various models. One of them is “pick-your-own.” Customers go to the farm during the harvest season of strawberries, blueberries or whatever else the farm grows and pick away. The farmer weighs the haul and charges by the pound. Prices are generally lower than in the grocery store, and the product is much fresher. Many people enjoy it as a social experience or something to do with their kids. Conner’s A-Maize-Ing Acres in Nassau County follows organic methods, though they are not yet certified. They have a wide variety of pick-your-own produce through most of the year. For more pick-your-own locations, visit www.pickyourown.org. You’ll find an extensive list by county, including visitor comments.
Another farm that does more traditional direct-to-consumer sales is Cognito Farm in Starke (www.cognitofarm.com), which has pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle and many other animal products and does not use hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics. For more farms in our area, visit www.localharvest.org, choose the kind of producer you’re looking for and put in your zip code.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture is another type of direct-to-consumer arrangement used by some farms. While there are variations on the concept, typically the consumer pays a membership fee for a weekly or biweekly “share,” which is an assortment of the in-season harvest. The catch (or one of the benefits, depending on your outlook) is that customers agree to “shared risk.” They agree to accept whatever the farm does or doesn’t produce. CSA farmers are very responsible and committed, but much of what they do depends on circumstances outside of their control such as the weather. Most CSA members say that this makes them more invested in the farm from which they get their food. For a great list of considerations and questions to ask when researching the CSA option, visit www.localharvest.org.
KYV Farms (www.kyvfarm.com) is a CSA farm in Switzerland, Florida owned by Francisco Arroyo and his wife Vivian. They use sustainable and organic farming methods with no chemical pesticides or fertilizers and offer full and half shares. When asked why their customers have chosen to buy from a CSA, Francisco says, “Freshness, variety and price. We cut our lettuce as the people come. You don’t get fresher than that.” Vivian adds, “They like to learn to use the new vegetables that sometimes you can’t get in the supermarket. We send them recipes every week.” The couple also consider their customers friends and really value the relationships that have formed.
Variation also exists in the food co-op concept, but there are generally two types. One is a market setting where “members” shop at a discount. The focus is on local and organic products. An example is Blue Planet (www.blueplanetco-op.com) on Anastasia Island. It offers members of its co-op a 20 percent discount and focuses on local, organic foods and products.
The other food co-op arrangement is more of a food club. These kinds of co-ops usually work with a network of farms, thus reducing the “shared risk” of a CSA. However, some see this as a negative since you may not know which farm a specific item came from. These kinds of co-ops usually, but not always, focus on local, organic foods. “We chose this option for its convenience and the opportunity to try new veggies that we might not otherwise select,” says co-op member Anne of Midlothian, Virginia. “My children (ages 1, 4 and 6) are so excited when the box arrives on our doorstep and are enthusiastic about eating the veggies from the box! It has also shifted my family’s mentality in choosing meals, making us plan the meal around the vegetable rather than the meat.” There are lots of these types of co-ops online, but one local example is Palmetto Organics (www.palmettoorganics.com). According to its website, it is a, “member-based, Jacksonville-area organic produce home delivery company.” This company has formed a network of local farms that all contribute to the shares, but it will also buy from non-local farms when necessary.
If you’re considering going organic and supporting local farmers, think about what KYV Farms’ Francisco Arroyo says, “You got a dentist, you got a doctor, you got an attorney, you got your CPA, but [if you] don’t have a farmer, you don’t know where your food is coming from.”
Organic shopping in Jacksonville
by ANNA RABHAN