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In Hernando County, produce shopping includes farms and a new farmers market

By Megan Reeves

Published March 28 2018

Updated March 28 2018

BROOKSVILLE — As we inch away from the cooler-than-usual winter and closer to summer’s warmth and rain, Hernando County farmers look forward to bountiful harvests. From fruits and veggies to soaps and supplements, much is available locally — especially with a new farmers market in downtown Brooksville.

Organized by the Hernando County Growers Association, a nonprofit agricultural co-operative formed to market locally grown produce, the market debuted Sunday with about 15 vendors. Michael DeFelice, owner of Twelve Oaks Community Farms and president of the association, said he plans to court more vendors from around Hernando and neighboring counties as the spring season progresses.

"I think there’s a lot of positive energy in the community for this type of organization," he said.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with a handful of farmers who participated in the market, as well as some who didn’t. Here’s a look at what they’re making and growing:

Richard’s Farm • 27132 Hickory Hill Road, Brooksville • 352-279-1511

"If I don’t grow it, I don’t sell it" — that’s Richard Myers’ motto. He and his wife, Roberta, have worked together on their farm for years growing all sorts of vegetables. Their most coveted products, however, come from the moringa oleifera trees they began growing about nine years ago.

Moringa is commonly referred to as a "superfood," said to have extraordinary health benefits that boost the immune system. At Richard’s farm, it’s sold in many forms. The Myers strip leaves from the branches, then sort and air-dry them to make tea, juice them to make soap and grind them into powder that comes loose or in capsules. Seeds and whole trees are for sale too.

Myers said he has used the products regularly since he had a heart attack six years ago, and even his doctor is impressed with the difference in his health and energy. He hopes others who use it will notice good changes, too.

"I will always grow that plant now," Myers said. "I can’t let it go."

The Myers also have a stand where they sell produce, but they don’t set prices. It’s "take what you need, leave what you can," he said.

Now, they have onions, carrots and collard greens available. Soon, the spring crops will be ready: cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, eggplants, peppers and more.

"You name it, I’ve probably got it," Myers said.

Suni Skyz Farm Handcrafted Soaps • 15187 Keller St., Brooksville • 352-584-0225

At Martha Tucker’s house, goats — big and small; black, white and brown; all named after John Denver songs — run free beneath a tall canopy of branches. In the shaded yard, they eat and play, and Tucker, a soap-maker, milks a goat named Cloud.

"Milking them is part of the experience, and it’s the best therapy in the world," she said. "I hear their heart beat in my ear and think, this is what life’s about."

Tucker, 61, has been in Brooksville since 2000 and began making natural-ingredient soaps using goat milk three years ago. In October, she left her job in medical coding to do it full-time. Mostly, she makes and sells out of a quaint cottage-style building beside her home. It’s a labor of love.

"I’m really not trying to make a lot of money," she said. "I just want people to use good things."

The milk is combined with other ingredients, like shea butter, coconut, palm and olive oils, and sodium hydroxide, which hardens the mixture after it is poured into a mold. Once dry, the soap is cut into bars, then set out to cure for several weeks before it is packaged and used.

Tucker has more than 50 varieties of soap, as well as lotions, scrubs, powders and more. Bars are $6 apiece.

JG Ranch • 17200 Wiscon Road, Brooksville • 352-799-0556

Berries are all the rage on this farm, where visitors get a white pail to fill as they pick from the 40,000 or so plants lined neatly in rows. Strawberries are in season, and their sweet, unmistakable scent sits heavy in the warm air. In the next few weeks, the farm should yield blueberries. Blackberries will be ready in July, before the farm shuts down for the year.

"Berries are the money-maker," said Jeff Casey, 47, who helps run the farm with his parents, Joan and George. "Nobody wants to do you-pick brussels sprouts."

The Casey family, which owns and lives on the 160-acre farm, began there in 2000. Four years later, they became a you-pick, or farm where visitors select produce themselves, straight from the plant. A variety of vegetables also grow on the farm, including swiss chard, peppers, green beans, romaine lettuce and two types of kale. But those are mostly for the cows standing eagerly near the fence, waiting to be fed as visitors stop by a vegetable-filled wheelbarrow.

"This is the closest you’ll get to a petting zoo," Casey said, while walking through a row of blackberry plants, looking toward the cattle. "It’s the happiest place."

Beasley Farms • 10137 Preston Road, Brookville • 352-799-6752

You may have seen Joann Beasley’s posts on her farm’s Facebook page. More often than not, they’re pictures of grinning people holding boxes overflowing with vegetables they got for a wildly good deal.

Sunday through Tuesday each week, Beasley Farms offers the same bargain: A box of whatever fresh produce they’ve got for $10. This week, for example, boxes came with sweet corn, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, bananas, radishes and varieties of onions, peppers and tomatoes. Recently, Beasley and her partner, Rolo Menchaca, who helps her run the farm, offered free, pick-your-own kale to those who bought a box.

The farm was passed down to Beasley from her father, when he died in 1996. In 1998, she "started doing things a little differently" and opened it up to the public. Since then, she has offered you-pick produce and sunflowers, the latter was recently planted in anticipation of summertime.

Twelve Oaks Community Farms • 5344 White Road, Brooksville • 727-422-3360

Michael DeFelice, an Army veteran, and his wife, Ginger, moved to Hernando County four years ago with no farming experience. They bought 5 acres with the idea of starting a "hobby farm." In 2016, they bought 8 acres more, and DeFelice went at it full-time.

"I plant everything, but I don’t grow much," is something DeFelice, 46, says regularly. "Not everyone just wakes up one day and decides they want to be farmers."

Since starting the farm, he said, area growers have helped them along, offering tips on everything from how to plant to where to sell crops once they are harvested. The teamwork boosted the idea for the co-op and market downtown.

Twelve Oaks lost a lot — cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers — to hurricane season and the frost in December, so DeFelice doesn’t have a booth at the market. For now, the couple is focused on promoting fellow farmers and continuing to learn as much as they can.

"We’ve had some success; we’re still learning," he said. "Someday we hope to be a vendor in the market we are trying to create."

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