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Pride and produce fresh from the farm

Jane Block sniffed one of Lark Napier's cantaloupes Saturday morning and told him that, unlike supermarket melons, this one actually smelled like a cantaloupe.

"Wait until you cut it open,'' said Napier, of Garden Grove, at a farmers market in downtown Brooksville. "Everybody in the neighborhood will know it.''

"I don't want everybody to know,'' Block said, laughing.

Ahh, the patter between a proud grower and a delighted buyer. I'd like to say it's timeless and universal, but, until recently, residents of Hernando have had to seek it out, could only find it by driving to a local farm or a farmers market in another county.

The sad truth is, we're usually separated from the growers of our fruits and vegetables by hundreds of miles and by a network of packers, truckers and retailers.

Also, delight isn't what we usually feel when we shop for supermarket produce. A lot of it has been bred to withstand shipment rather than to taste good. We tend to buy it in the dutiful spirit of children eating spinach.

The market in Brooksville, called Saturday at the Market, is intended to offer an alternative to this pattern, and to revive the tradition of local farmers and customers flocking to town every Saturday (starting at 8 a.m.).

Though summer is not peak season for Florida fruits and vegetables, and last week's market was only the second installment, a half-dozen vendors offered — to a steady stream of customers — tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupes, eggplant, onions, corn, yellow squash and zucchini.

All of it came from Hernando or neighboring counties. All of it was worthy of sniffing and turning over in your hands. Most of it was raised without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and displayed without dyes or wax.

"It's just been grown, picked and brought to the table,'' Napier said of his produce.

Lisa Callea, who founded the Love Your Neighbor organization with her husband, John, conceived of the market as a way of promoting their business, Rising Sun Cafe, and the downtown business district.

Unlike a similar effort that concentrates on crafts, Market on Main Street, the farmers market can be held every week because people need to regularly stock up on fruits and vegetables, she said. By providing a needed outlet for local produce, it also gives a boost to growers.

To me, there's no group in the county more deserving of support.

In recent years, I have grown tired of hearing from those wanted to develop Hernando's rural land that agriculture in the county is dying.

Based on what I saw Saturday, and on the number of residents asking our local agriculture extension agents about starting blueberry farms and peach orchards — that's not even close to the truth.

Farming is an overlooked part of our economy that, like any other industry, can stimulate investment, provide local jobs and prevent wasteful commutes. Buying locally grown food offers the additional savings of fuel for shipping and refrigerating our food.

But the biggest benefit is to the consumers. How good was Napier's melon? It so happened my neighbor was already there when I cut it open — a friend of my son's who, like most boys, usually prefers Skittles to fresh fruit.

He took a bite of melon and gave it a definite thumbs-up.

Pride and produce fresh from the farm 06/30/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2008 12:49am]
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