Tag Archives: Florida

Year-round Local Food Finds at One of America’s Favorite: Winter Garden Farmers Market

The city of Winter Garden, Florida, is so supportive of its local agriculture that it bought and set aside land close to the downtown area specifically for farming and community gardens.  So it makes sense that residents are enthusiastic about the Winter Garden Farmers Market. Set in the charming city center, along brick roads and the pavilion, the market offers residents a chance to interact with local farmers and learn about their food. Patrons are extremely enthusiastic that their votes helped secure the Winter Garden Farmers Market a top spot in the American Farmland Trust’s 2012 America’s Favorite Farmers Market competition.

You can find just about anything at the Winter Garden Farmers Market, from fresh produce, organic meats and eggs, and goods made from locally grown foods. Winter Garden is located just outside Orlando and the climate allows for year-round growing. Florida is renowned for its citrus, so you don’t have to look far at the market to find your favorite variety of oranges, lemons, or tangerines. Fall is one of the best growing seasons for the area, so residents will have an opportunity to enjoy delicious herbs, beets, and even strawberries into the holiday season and beyond.

The market is about four years old. It has moved around to different locations but now has a perfect spot near the pavilion and bike paths, said Shannon Heron, project manager. “The downtown merchants association worked hard to make the old downtown very active and vibrant,” she said. “It has the real great old town feel and it pulls people into the downtown. It’s really an incredible location.”

On any given Saturday at the market you’ll find kids playing in the newly installed splash pad to stay cool, dog owners shopping for pet treats, and families enjoying freshly squeezed juice from local citrus. Patrons are completely loyal to their market and many come early in the morning to get the freshest produce. Musicians frequent the market to entertain shoppers and play games with kids. “It’s a really friendly, open sort of vibe,” Heron said.

The vendors also have a tight community. They help each other out if they are short on staff and they work closely with the downtown merchants. “Our produce guys are so busy,” Heron said. “They all watch out for each other.”

The market is home to a third-generation farmer. Through a partnership with the city, he farms about 10 acres of land owned by the city of Winter Garden. Dana Brown, market manager, said the city plans to set aside another 40 acres for others to farm, as well. The city recently bought about 100 acres, which will be set aside for parks and farmland. Brown said the city planner is a visionary with preserving local farmland and the community is in full support. There is even a community garden for residents to grow on their own plots of land.

“This is a new thing for the community, but they are just going with it,” Brown said. “There isn’t a lot of red tape. The city just said let’s do it right and do it big. They are very progressive.”

One of the local farmers plans to host a corn harvest festival to help celebrate the award from AFT. It will give residents a chance to see where their food is produced but they will also celebrate the fall harvest with tractor rides and a corn maze.

The organizers will continue to come up with interesting ways to promote their local growers and merchants and encourage the community to come out and enjoy the wide assortment of goods and food offered at the market. The goal is to build off the success from winning the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award and continue to encourage residents to support the local farmers.

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Farmland By the Numbers!

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 National Resources Inventory story of our nation’s farm and ranch land loss in numbers. The 2007 National Resource Inventory is the most comprehensive natural resource database in the United States—tracking conditions and trends on non-federal land from 1982 to 2007.

Farmland Loss map
Map: Every State Lost Agricultural Land.
Bright Spots Chart Bar Chart: States with the biggest farmland loss
Chart: California vs. Florida Farmland Loss
Pie Chart: States that Developed the Largest Percentage of their Land

The analysis behind these graphics was conducted by our Farmland Information Center (FIC) and first appeared in our Winter 2010 issue of American Farmland magazine.  Stay tuned as we release more information on farmland loss across the nation.

Want to do something about it? Send a letter to your state lawmakers today and tell them to protect the precious farm and ranch land in your state! Feel free to re-post these images, but please link back to us.

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A Grove of the Future for Florida?

In Florida, a new smart growth strategy called “Grove of the Future” is being looked at which seeks to balance the need for both urban spaces and working agriculture lands by combining the two in a way that enhances them both.  Following is a guest post on the concept.

More values can be realized from ag land than just growing crops if things are designed differently.  The idea is to use part of the land for production of crops, but also include design features that would enhance other values.  We need windbreaks for control of citrus bacterial canker, for example, so the windbreak trees could become part of buffers around the crop that also provide biodiversity, habitat, storm water attenuation, and recreational opportunities.

There are currently incentives for landowners to devote part of their land to non-crop uses such as cost-share programs and potential revenue for storm water storage and treatment.  If additional incentives are added, such as recreational user fees, tax breaks, etc., the idea becomes more economically feasible and realistic.

Trias and Associates

Photo Credit: Trias and Associates

If ag lands designed along these lines are situated adjacent or near urban areas, mutual values can be enhanced.  The easier it is for people to access and enjoy the open space and fresh air of rural lands, the more value it would have.  And, again with proper design, ag lands could attenuate and treat storm water from urban areas, which would add more value to the ag lands, and work better than digging lakes, which is an “Open Space” use that has a siren call for developers because it’s easy.  But, you can’t grow food in the middle of a lake, and the habitat value is less than a shallow wetland.

If treated wastewater is used to irrigate the ag lands, disposal costs would be lower and growers would save money on fertilizer and use less water for irrigation, freeing up supplies for urban or industrial uses.  The closer the ag lands are to the urban areas that are generating the storm water, the shorter the pipe runs and lower the pumping costs.

To capitalize on the value that urban residents can bring to ag, farmers need houses in the general vicinity of their fields.  And, to capitalize on a lifestyle that involves less driving and is healthier, urban areas need rural lands nearby.  So, the values and benefits will depend largely on the way the landscape is designed.

The successful achievement of the “Grove of the Future”, and “Town of the Future”, hinges entirely on design.  Things have to be designed right to function in the way that is visualized.  It has to be more than numbers and formulas – the design parameters must be specified.  The illustration (above) shows how the “Green Space” can be designed with the same level of detail that is included now with urban design.  If the designs of the two are combined, both will be better – and more profitable for everybody, including the County.

Why not give it a try?  It’ll mean thinking about alternatives that may, when you first hear them, sound impossible and ridiculous.  But, as you can see by these grove design ideas, if it is possible to design every acre of ag land in a way that we will have food to eat, crops to sell, higher profits for farmers, and provide places for people to interact with their living environment in healthy, enjoyable, and affordable ways — maybe it’s not so crazy after all.

It is possible and probably will happen at some point as we continue to wean ourselves from sprawl development patterns.  Why not now?

About the Author: Pete Spyke is a native Floridian and third generation citrus grower. Pete and his wife Cindy operate Arapaho Citrus Management (ArapahoCitrus.com), a farming company in Ft. Pierce, and The Orange Shop (FloridaOrangeShop.com), a gift fruit shipping company in Citra, FL. He has been involved for many years as a volunteer and consultant in the development of rural land strategies for Growth Management initiatives for governments in Florid.  Pete and Cindy  recently  received  the 2010 Florida Ag-Environmental Leadership Award from Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson.

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