freshen your feast

L-R Christiani Pitts, Will Sedwick Dozier, Megan Wheeler, Kelly Methven, Madison Johnson, Shelby Nichols, Sarah Mitchel, Robert Teasdale.

photo by Genny Wynn

One of the things we in Northeast Florida can be thankful for this Thanksgiving is our local farms. How fortunate we are to have so many friendly farmers growing food for us the way nature intended- in an organic and sustainable way that’s good for us and for the planet. This Thanksgiving, why not show off all the fresh and fantastic ingredients our region has to offer to all of your out-of-town dinner guests? They’ll surely want to stick around a little longer though, so make your invitations carefully!
Begin your feast with a savory fall starter such as pumpkin and tomato soup. Pumpkins are ubiquitous this time of year, but many people don’t realize that fall in Northeast Florida also means a second tomato harvest. Lettuce, carrots, snow peas, radishes and other crunchy veggies are also harvested this time of year, so follow up with a salad course. Top an heirloom lettuce salad with a local craft cheese or, for something really unique, try snow pea shoot salad. Here are some of the local farms you might not know about.
Twinn Bridges Farm ( in Macclenny began selling herbs to upscale restaurants in Jacksonville 13 years ago. They have since expanded their offerings to other restaurants and have begun selling to the public at Beaches Green Market ( Twinn Bridges’ Scott Francis throws down the Thanksgiving gauntlet saying, “I’ll put local, seasonally grown, fresh-picked ingredients up against any can of chemically enhanced menu item any day, let alone the day food is the center of celebration.” Twinn Bridges will be picking a cornucopia of vegetables this fall that may include twelve or more varieties of heirloom tomatoes, baby carrots of various colors, kale, several varieties of radishes, Swiss chard, snow pea shoots and much, much more. Their 200 hens will also be laying plenty of eggs. According to Francis, the chance for farmers and customers to meet and get to know one another is one of the biggest advantages of buying locally. “We talk about how [the food] is grown, how it’s harvested. Exchanging recipes is the norm. [We’re on] a first name basis with most [customers]. You can’t do that with a canned ham.”
Those who want the traditional turkey as their main course have to act fast around here. A lucky few got Cognito Farms’ turkeys, which sold out within 22 hours. You may still be able to find area farms that have turkeys, but don’t discount delicious broiler chickens and ham. Why not switch it up and have ham for Thanksgiving and turkey for Christmas? Visit their website for recipes.
Cognito Farms ( in Starke specializes in pasture-raised, sustainably managed meat and poultry. Farmers Sam and Jerry Williams plan to adjust their production upward for next year. Meanwhile, Sam says, “Many hams from our range-raised pork are being cured using an old-fashioned salt cure and smoked by an expert, old-timey gentleman who has done an outstanding job with our bacon.” In addition to ham, Cognito offers pasture-raised chicken. “This year’s management is producing extraordinary results,” Sam says, “and should result in nice, big, meaty chickens that a family of two to six can easily enjoy as a local, humane turkey alternative.” To pre-order from Cognito, simply sign up for the market newsletter on their website. Sam has a good argument for shopping from local farmers. She says, “Because [Thanksgiving] is a celebration… to make the day really special, the food must be really special. That means flavor. If it’s grown fast or with petroleum inputs, then it’s simply not that flavorful. Freshness is also a flavor factor. You get all of that when you shop for local, organic and sustainably produced ingredients.”
The incredible variety of vegetables available at this time of year means that you could make them the focus of your Thanksgiving meal. Those for whom it would not be Thanksgiving without sweet potato casserole, fear not. Fall is sweet potato harvest time in Northeast Florida. Spinach sautéed with garlic, cauliflower, carrots steamed and tossed in butter and brown sugar, green beans, plump Brussels sprouts, baked winter squash and more are all options at this time of year.
KYV Farm ( in Switzerland is a sustainably-managed Community Supported Agriculture farm specializing in organic produce, including citrus. CSA consumers provide upfront support for the local grower and, in return, receive a share of the harvest. KYV is accepting a limited number of memberships until harvest begins. Farm owner Francisco Arroyo says that members enjoy “knowing where their food comes from, helping the local economy and getting longer-lasting produce.”
For many, Thanksgiving dessert deserves its own groaning board. Northeast Florida’s organically grown pumpkins make for fantastic pies. Pecans are ridiculously versatile; use them in pies, cookies, cakes, and any number of tasty treats. You could even feature local ingredients in some unusual desserts such as beet fritters or squash and walnut (or pecan) croquettes ( For a lighter option, serve a big bowl of fresh tangerine segments or any of the many other varieties of Florida citrus available in the fall.
Musickal Acres ( in Baldwin offers produce and eggs, but owner Scott Johnson says, “Our claim to fame, if you will, is Duval County-grown pecans. We have approximately 70 pecan trees on our farm.” They even sell pecans to a few local restaurants. The general public can pick up their pecans at the Beaches Green Market. Johnson sees buying locally as a win-win. “If folks don’t buy local, we could not do what we love doing. The best reason for the consumer is being able to connect with the farmer, to learn his growing practices and how the farmer treats the land and environment and knowing that most of the produce was picked either that morning or the night before.” He also cites the environmental impact of shipping products to big-box stores as a reason to shop local farms.
As you give thanks for family, friends and all the good fortune of the year over your local, organic feast this Thanksgiving, you can also be assured that the farmers you bought from are giving thanks for you.