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Suburban farmette finds 'A Simpler Place' to grow greater

RIVERVIEW — Like so many people, Renee Raley had a unique relationship with food during her college years.

It was those late-night papers fueled by microwaved TV dinners that led Raley to what she now calls her passion.

"If I'm honest I had a really bad relationship with food in my college years and I was just kind of exhausted by living that way," Raley said. "I started to read about nutrition and that sort of thing and had this lightbulb moment. I started eating real food and it just kind of eliminated the need to diet or count calories."

With the guidance of other local farmers, namely Susan Bishop of My Mother's Garden in Wimauma, Raley began delivering produce in 2011, making fresh, real food accessible to the Riverview community.

Raley and Bishop outgrew their producers-only market set up at Foundation Coffee Co. Even though she was just months from giving birth to her daughter, she made finding a realistic solution and more space a priority.

"That was a lot of fun but it was too small of an area for all the vendors and parking so in the fall of 2016 we came here," Raley said.

Now the entrepreneurs have A Simpler Place, a "suburban farmette" tucked away on Carr Road just north of busy Boyette Road. It rests on approximately 3.5 acres of fertile land ready for the fall harvest.

A Simpler Place maintains a small hen house, a farm store and bakery. It also stages events, including an upcoming Riverview Farm Fest on Friday (July 28).

"We grow everything here and we have the farm store for local farmers and vendors to sell and we're working on getting the kitchen certified," Raley said. "Susan and I rotate the days and weekends we spend on the farm so we both have time for our lives, which is important with a full-time job and a child."

Last year National Geographic reported that the Farm Services Agency made loans to more than 18,000 farms nationwide since launching a micro-loan program in 2013. The majority of those loans, 70 percent, have gone to small-time farmers not too far from cities, like Raley.

But still, getting an urban or suburban farm to profitability can be an uphill battle.

In an effort to maintain growth and keep the community involved in every step of the process A Simpler Place has been able to operate using Community Supported Agriculture, where customers will pay a fee at the beginning of the season, and benefit from the harvest once it comes in.

"Community members buy into the farm at the start of the season and that will provide you with the money to get seeds and help pay for irrigation and upfront costs. Then, over the course of the season, they get a share of the harvest for the season," Raley said. "It's difficult. It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of time pursuing this. Without the help of other local farmers educating me and guiding me, I wouldn't be able to do this at all."

At least 17 urban, suburban and traditional farms in the Tampa Bay area are using CSA to compete against big-box stores which in the last year have made grocery shopping more convenient than ever.

With the right connections in place, A Simpler Place will be holding a farm fest, which will be put on by the same team that produces the MiraBay Market and Southshore Market, with nearly 40 local farmers and vendors of handmade products.

"We're so excited for this to happen and for people to see how great it can be knowing and trusting where your food comes from."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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