Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What did I do today?

I did a very nice thing... Not nice as in nice, but nice as in I liked it...

Today, after weeks of being too busy, too tired, or too busy to get out of the yard for time outside, I rode my bicycle to the closest farmers’ market, Bearss Groves, nearly 1.5 miles away. And I am very proud of myself for having done this. It takes less than three minutes to drive it, but I took my bike instead. It was so worth it. With a quarter of a mile left to go, I stopped at the corner of Lake Mag and Smitter Road, at a location which would be almost ideal for a neighborhood market, got off my bike and took time to stretch because my legs, after so many days without serious use, felt like they were going to fall off. I can’t tell you how much stretching helped. Never underestimate its value.

Check out a lovely photo essay of Central Florida Roadside Stands (mostly ones in Hillsborough County, I noticed) here. Under the listings for July 12, 2005 are the pictures and stories about Bearss Groves. There is also an article on the history of the grove and the lake which borders it, the development of the area and the Bearss’ commitment to preserve what is left here starting on the bottom of page 4. And I think that the Bearss Lemon was also first discovered and cultivated on their property, as every page I find about it says that it was discovered in the early 1950s at “Bearss Groves near Lutz, Florida.” Lutz is a bit north of here, but not much, and in the 1950s, Carrollwood didn’t really exist yet and I know of no other "Bearss Groves," so I’m guessing it was there… (They should have a plaque or something…)

I can tell you from first hand knowledge that the Bearss family is one of the oldest in this part of the county. A large part of the old section of the Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church Cemetery is devoted to their ancestors and they have a prominent road that borders their property named for them, Bearss Avenue. I am quite sure they could get millions upon millions of dollars for their orange grove, which is approximately 100 acres surrounded by subdivisions, from developers (who must simply drool at the very sight of it). It is the only undeveloped lake-front property left on one of the largest lakes in this part of the county. But, thankfully, they have continuously refused to sell it and continue to operate it as a working grove to the betterment of the entire community and, indeed, I believe the county too. It has been functioning in this respect for over 100 years and I hope it will continue to do so for as long as the oranges will grow (and longer if they can find something else to plant that 100 acres with). They lost a number of their trees these past several winters and they have not yet been replaced. It does make me worry. I should ask about it the next time I go.

The Bearss family squeezes and bottles their own orange juice and grapefruit juice and sell it for $3.50/half-gallon. We’re going to try it and if it’s as good as I think it will be, we will be switching to that. It is their specialty and, along with their fresh citrus, is the mainstay of their business. During the winter months, they grow and sell their own produce, but in the summer, they get it from elsewhere. (I can tell you from trying myself for several years, growing a good vegetable crop in high summer here is nigh impossible!) It is not organic, as far as I can tell, but you can’t get much more local than 1.5 miles from your house unless you grow it yourself! And this summer, I just don’t have that kind of time with all the other projects I’ve got my fingers in. (Though our small 10’ x 10’ plot has already yielded up two tomatoes and 7 zukes. By tomorrow afternoon or the next day, we should have more tomatoes and at least 2 yellow squash as well. Eggplants will come later. There’s also a very nice pair of pokeweeds coming up smack in the middle of the patch next to the sprinkler. LOL!) I don't expect to have any more time come fall.

Oh, and I’ll be bringing some of the Bearss’ fine produce with me when I go avisiting to the Carolinas. I'm willing to take requests pending availability. ;D

Not all of the produce currently available is grown at the Bearss Groves, as I said, and not all of it is local. The oranges are from them, and perhaps the unfiltered honey as well (though I didn’t stop to ask it - it was so busy today - but they do have active hives in the groves - pictured below). The sweet corn is grown in Florida. Since it is our second largest cash crop (as of 2001, in acreage planted/5th largest in market value [though value is rising due to the rising price of corn]; approximately 25% of all sweet corn sold in the US is grown in Florida) and is in season, I would hope it would be! The peaches and Vidalia onions are from Georgia. The exotic fruits, such as mangoes and bananas, are from commercial growers in South America, since these fruits cannot be sustained at commercial levels in the continental US due to climate. The avocados are from California and Mexico (but are individually marked so I was able to get the ones from California - and they are *good!* Kinda small, compared to the ones at the grocery store, but very ripe! I have one of the seeds set up in a jar hoping to sprout it). There were a good deal of other fruits and vegetables available, but I only had a little bicycle basket to put it all in, so I got 5 ears of corn, 2 peaches, 2 onions, and 2 avocados. I paid just $5.00! Can you beat that at a grocery store, for price or quality? I think not!

I must tell my fellow tree-huggers that there is a large live oak tree next to the parking lot of their roadside stand which “arborists say” is 400 years old or more, and I wouldn’t question that estimate for a second. It is simply massive and at some point I have to get a picture of it. It is truly a sight to behold.

And in looking for links for this post, I found the Hillsborough County Grown Consumers Directory, which is a free listing provided by the county of any and all agriculturalists and farmers wishing to advertise their locally grown produce. How awesome is that? Sometimes, the things this county government does to support the local economy astounds me (in a good way).

I also found a source of local info for USF students who aren’t from the Tampa area (and let me tell you, it’s informative for students from the Tampa area too!).

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