At a time of great uncertainty, many of us are turning to a group of people our country has long depended on: our farming community.
We are blessed with a multitude of hard-working growers and ranchers in our region who are supplying just-picked produce and local meats, poultry, eggs and herbs. There’s also a growing interest in home-grown products like artisanal breads, locally made cheese and honey — even oysters
You can buy these fresh products at the open-air farmers’ markets in Tallahassee or through the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance online market, which melds back-to-nature traditions with the digital age.
Despite a “stay-at-home” order issued March 24 by Mayor John Dailey and Leon County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge, we’re told that the online and outdoor markets are considered part of the food chain and can stay open.
“These are such good people and they are doing so much for all of us,” said Jennifer Krell Davis, an Alliance board member and farmers’ market fan. “I love cooking and these are wonderful local ingredients.”
Aaron Nicely and Derek Phillips, first-generation farmers and owners of Handsome Harvest in Quincy, sell their produce at the Tallahassee Farmers’ Market and through the Alliance’s Red Hills Online Market.
At the outdoor market, “It’s spread out so we’re encouraging people to keep social distancing,” said Nicely.
In addition, customers are asked to let the farmers and vendors know what they want so people aren’t handling any products, he said.
Phillips, who is president of the Tallahassee Farmers’ Market, said the markets are an essential service, especially at the moment.
“Nothing is more important to me then what we eat,” said Julie Royal Konikoff, a farmers’ market fan. “I look at it as healthcare. Supporting farmers is our way of life. We have such an amazing community of the nicest farmers and are so lucky to have the well-established Red Hills Online market at a time like this.“
While some farms that supply food to restaurants have taken a loss, the markets are easing the pain of that gap.
The Red Hills Online Market, in particular, has helped many farmers, especially those who have decided not to sell at outdoor venues just now
“Having that outlet is instrumental for keeping farmers alive when it’s so difficult to manage without restaurant sales,” said Nicely. “It’s really unique. There are a lot of farmers (in other areas) who are having a harder time making the transition to online.”
Katie Harris said that when she and a small group of women in the agriculture community decided to form a group connecting other area farmers, they didn’t anticipate what that connection would mean to the farmers and the community at large.
They started with a $1,500 grant and laid the groundwork for the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance.
“Ten years ago, we thought it was a great idea but now all this is happening,” said Harris, who owns the Full Earth Farm in Quincy with her husband, Aaron Suko. “This is an amazing model to have during a pandemic but we never planned for it.”
She and her husband are in the process of expanding their farm and she plans to start making kimchi and hot sauce to sell through the market. Her mother, Lucy Harris, owns Damfino’s Market & Bakery in downtown Quincy, which also sells breads, salad dressings and other items on the Red Hills Online Market.
“These farmers are an essential link in the food chain,” said Davis. “You’re talking about a limited number of people coming in contact with your food products. Not only is it safer than other ways to get food but you’re getting food that is fresh and local. There are so many benefits.”
The public is embracing those benefits.
The nonprofit online market, for instance, usually averages about $7,000 worth of revenue per week,” said Davis. Last week “it was close to $20,000.”
This week, sales were $34,000. “It used to take us a month to make that much,” said Karen Capps Goodlett, manager of the Red Hills Online Market. The market has also increased from 4o or 60 deliveries a week to more than 200 this week. To help meet the demand, the market has hired additional drivers, including restaurant workers who have lost their jobs.
“We did expect a big increase in market sales, but we were still amazed at last week’s sales,” said Cari Roth, president of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance board. “Watching events unfold around the world and our nation, it was clear that more people would be cooking in more and trying to limit their trips out of their homes. We’re pleased to offer this outlet to both our customers and our farmers including those who have their restaurant sales reduced or eliminated.”
“Eating local is always good,” added Roth, also the interim executive director of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance. “It’s especially wonderful now and we’re glad that even more people know what a wonderful resource we have in this area with our small food producers.
“They work hard year round under normal conditions and especially now to continue to keep that local food chain growing to meet these new needs and demands,” she said.
In addition, the number of customers, as well as their orders, keeps growing.
“We have more than 500 people shopping with us now,” said Goodlett. ”We’re proud we’ve been able to serve so many people.”
If you want to join the market, you can sign up on the alliance website and pay a $20 fee. You then scan the list of products available on your computer and order the amount you want.
You’re not locked into buying big quantities. My list often includes a dozen eggs (you can’t beat farm-fresh eggs), carrots, spiced pecans (I’m addicted to these), hydroponic lettuce, assorted greens and jams. My husband and I don’t eat a lot of meat but sometimes I’ll buy chicken or pork.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll find an array of fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and poultry as well as herbs and plants along with coffee, kombucha, honey, oysters, breads, nuts, cheese, jams and even soap, plus cool items like watermelon radishes, Australian pea tendrils and smoked grits. Sorry no toilet paper.
Everything you find on the Red Hills Online Market has been produced within 100 miles of Tallahassee.
“The way it’s taking off is awesome,” said Nicely. “We have over 80 farmers and producers with the online market and we’re just getting into our most productive season of the year.”
Look for cucumbers, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, summer squash, blackberries and blueberries, okra and zucchini coming in the next couple of months, said Becky Dinkins, assistant manager of the Red Hills Market. “We are coming into season for those wonderful spring vegetables.”
In these times, our farmers “are more important than ever,” said Davis.
I think we’d all agree.
Tallahassee Farmers’ Markets
Downtown Market: The downtown market is currently closed but normal hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays March to November. 115 E. Park Ave.
Farmers Market at Bannerman Crossing: The market, featuring produce, breads, flowers and other products, takes place from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays in the shopping center pavilion. Bannerman Crossing, 6668 Thomasville Road. The market features CK Honey, homemade loaves by Bread a’la Turca, baked goods and jams by English Rose (orders taken for delivery) and pasture-raised eggs and poultry as well as forest-fed, heritage breed pork from Schmoe Farm, a small, sustainable South Georgia farm. You can place orders with the farm by contacting schmoefarm.com
Frenchtown Farmers Market: The weekly event features vendors selling handmade and locally grown products and produce plus eggs, honey, herbs, preserves, homemade breads and other baked goods. 524 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; 9 .m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
Growers Market at Lake Ella: The primary stand here is Pita Queen, operated by Israel Artzi and his wife, Yocheved “Yoche.” He makes generous falafel sandwiches and she sells organic vegetables the couple grows on their two-acre farm in Thomasville, They also make handcrafted breads including their popular pita bread, halvah (made from sesame seed paste) and hummus. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 229 Lake Ella Dr.
Liberty Farms: The market supplies vegetables to the restaurants Liberty Bar, The Hawthorn, and El Cocinero as well as the general public. While the restaurants are closed now the market remains open. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. though options are limited now until more crops come in. 400 W. Sixth Ave.
Tallahassee Farmers Market: The farmers market brings a large selection of fresh produce, meats, cheese, flowers, plants and natural products from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at Kerry Forest Parkway and Thomasville Road.
How the online market works
You order what you need on your computer from Sunday at 8 a.m. until Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. at rhomarket.com/ It costs $20 for a year’s membership. Customers on RHO Market can specify whether they want home delivery, delivery to a hub, or pick up at the market, said Alliance board chair Cari Roth.
*Pick up is from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays at the hub at the Northwood Centre, at 1940 Monroe St., near the Tallahassee Ballet. No charge for pick-up here. You will be asked in the comment section of your online order to identify a pick-up time window and the make and color of car and your items will be brought outside. Normally, you could pick your items up inside.
*Pick up at the Community Co-Op Market, 1235 Apalachee Pkwy. is 4 to 8 p.m. (pick-up cost is $3.50)
* Longview Farms’ pick-up is at 1532 Concord Rd. in Havana, from 4 to 6 p.m. ($4 fee).
*Miccosukee Land Co-op’s pick-up is from 5 to 7 p.m. ($4 fee).
* Pick up is at Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, 123 S. Broad St. in Thomasville from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. ($6 fee).
*Delivery costs $6 if you live within a six-mile radius of the Northwood Centre Hub and $10 if you live further than that but still in the Tallahassee area.