Area farmers encourage residents to 'eat local'


Jasen Winn, 8, center, sprays water onto a mound of dirt that is being formed by members of the Devotional Eco Villages International Project into a mold, which will have “cob” laid over it that will then form an earth oven for cooking, during the kickoff party for the 2011 Eat Local Challenge held at Kumarie's Organic Garden in Alachua on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 10:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 10:07 p.m.

Down a washboard dirt road northwest of Alachua lies Kumarie's Organic Garden, an 11-acre farm devoted to growing vegetables the old-fashioned way — before there were corporate-run farms and laboratory-created pesticides.

“We grow everything,” said Kumarie Barran, who, along with her husband Hemchan, works the land to coax out from the gray Florida silt everything from lettuce and bok choy to soy and squash. “Whatever will take the Florida heat, we'll grow.”

Kumarie's is one of many local farms taking part in the Eat Local Challenge, the fourth annual contest that encourages residents to eat local, seasonal foods at home or in locally owned restaurants every day during May.

“People get to know exactly where their local food comes from,” Barran said as dozens of people enjoyed a kickoff event in her front yard, eating organic dishes, listening to a local band and learning about traditional ways of gardening and farming.



Stefanie Samara Hamblen has organized the event each year, saying there are five reasons to support local farmers:

Environmental concerns: Reducing your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of miles that your food travels to your plate.

Economic concerns: A dollar spent at a local vendor will circulate around a local community 11 times. It will help the infrastructure of a city, as well as other local businesses. A dollar spent at a big box store will almost immediately leave the community.

Biodiversity: Corporate agriculture grows monoculture crops, which is unhealthy for the earth. The earth needs multiple species in order to benefit.

Health and taste: Because the food is locally grown and being picked immediately, it's being picked at its ripest, which packs in more vitamins and enhances the flavor.

She said the choice is always clear when people have to choose between a California commercially grown tomato, picked green and shipped here, or a ripe red tomato picked fresh this morning at a local farm.

“You can grow indigenous and heirloom varieties, and not worry about the shipping,” Samara Hamblen said.

She added that about 500 people took part in the challenge last year, and this year, she expects about three dozen restaurants to participate by highlighting local food on their menus.

Barran and her husband stumbled into organic farming by accident. Both had lost their jobs and needed a quick way to make money by the end of the month. With the last $35 they had in the bank, they created a small vegetable garden (what used to be called a kitchen garden) and grew radishes, arugula and lettuce. By the end of the month, they sold what they had grown.

“We paid our bills at the end of the month,” she said. “We did not go back looking for a job anywhere.”

Instead, they began cultivating their 11 acres. They use marigolds as natural pesticides. They plant alternating rows of vegetables so if an infestation happens in one row, it won't destroy their entire crop, as would happen if they only grew a monoculture. They use neem oil to chase away aphids. And they have a basic philosphy.

“There's a beginning to everything, and there's an end to everything,” she said, adding that they understand if they lose a row of lettuce.

The challenge will wrap up with a celebration at 4 p.m. May 29 at Sweet Dreams Homemade Ice Cream, with prizes for participants.

Contact Kimberly Moore Wilmoth at 374-5036 or kimberly.moore@nytrng.com.

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