“Food is essential to life, therefore make it good.”
In a quote that’s possibly overused, Chick-fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy gives guidance on the art of food. What he didn’t say was to also make it healthy.
Historical debate and protests have taken place over the last several years as do-gooders seek to take down companies such as Monsanto that produce food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These foods have been genetically modified to last longer and look more appealing and the United States is one of few major countries that does not require genetically modified foods to be labeled.
Though many scientists have come to a consensus that these foods are as safe as everyday food, many consumers just don’t like the notion of a needle being injected into their vegetables. But there is also debate over the way Monsanto treats farmers. Beyond that are more harmful ingredients in everyday foods we buy at the supermarket such as trans-fat, high-fructose corn syrup and loads of sodium. Food has become less blissful and more debatable.
Luckily, old school food is making a comeback right here in Northeast Florida.
KYV Farm is located in Northwest St. Johns County and grows everything from broccoli and potatoes to arugula and rutabaga (feel free to Google those last two vegetables). The farm doesn’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers; instead, they sustain the crops through practices such as crop rotation. This process involves planting different types of crops at different times of the year, which helps prevent disease and pests from invading the soil.
Other preventive and quality assurance measures include the use of companion cropping, a system in which the farmer plants something such as sunflowers nearby to attract insects away from the crop. Green manure, the use of uprooted and dying plants placed in the soil to increase nutrient levels, is also used as well as cover crops, compost, mulches, proven organic seeds, good irrigation systems and cold frames to start or extend the season of a crop.
KYV is a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. This means that a large share of the harvest is claimed by supporters who have sponsored the crop. KYV offers a fall 24-week membership as well as a spring six-week membership. Those who buy into this program receive vegetables on their doorstep weekly or bi-weekly.
KYV also manages the Berry Stacks Hydroponic U-Pick Farm that can be seen from Interstate 95 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine at the St. Augustine Marketplace. Hydroponics is the process of growing food without soil. Instead, only nutrient-rich water are used. Visitors to the farm have access to the entire field and, as the name implies, pick their own berries for purchase.
KYV is not the only farm in Northeast Florida providing for locals. Others such as Down to Earth Farm in Jacksonville, Twinn Bridges Farm in Macclenny and Black Hog Farm in Palatka also grow a variety of produce. They all use similar techniques and rely on the local community to sustain their fields.
Black Hog Farm may be the most recognized name as they have grown in popularity due to their doorstep delivery, presence at the Riverside Arts Market and use in local restaurants. Black Hog also provides fresh meat products that are delicious and nonsense-free. The goal of Black Hog Farm is to “farm sustainability [and] minimize our footprint for the benefit of future generations with the hope of keeping the art of traditional farming alive.”
The movement of buying locally grown food has transcended consumers and made its way into the mission of area restaurants. One of those restaurants is Black Sheep in Riverside. The owners made the decision from the start to source most of their ingredients from local, high-quality farms. Black Sheep collects much of their food from Black Hog Farm and others like them across North Florida and South Georgia. Head chef Waylon Rivers explains that Black Sheep is all about local farming because, “being from Jacksonville, I feel an obligation to help support local businesses in our community that have a product that I stand behind. It is nice to have the luxury of knowing where the product came from and who helped bring that product to our restaurant. Seeing someone take much pride in their craft makes me use the utmost respect for that product.” Customers love to see establishments taking this initiative too as Black Sheep has become one of Jacksonville’s most popular restaurants.
Food is an ever-evolving business. Farming is the world’s oldest way of producing food and as time has progressed, so has the process. People live faster lives today than our ancestors did. Many people don’t seem to have enough time to cook, let alone grow their own food. Fast food chains are found on every corner and chemicals are now a normal part of our diet.
In Northeast Florida, farms such as these and organizations like the Girls Gone Green and Slow Foods First Coast are encouraging consumers to make more conscious decisions about what they are eating, where it comes from and how it is produced. Eating healthy and avoiding the trend of unhealthy food is crucial not only for a healthy body but also to ensure the art of local farming is continuous. All of the money spent, stays. This builds a viable healthy economy for our community.
If that’s not enough proof for you, consider this. Locally grown goods have less impact on the environment. Not only do these farms use organic methods of growing, they also aren’t shipping the food thousands of miles and storing it in a warehouse. The food being produced is always in season and therefore is going to taste a whole lot better.
Each of these farms provide a delivery service or display their foods for purchase at the Riverside Arts Market, Beaches Market, Old City Farmers Market and their farms.
So drop the Big Mac and make a late resolution for the New Year, or a second attempt at a failed one, to eat healthy and local.