Local farmers educate community about agriculture at agricultural festival
The smells of wood smoke and freshly squeezed Hamlin oranges wafted through the festival air outside the Cade Museum near Depot Park on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a trio of string musicians played to the laughter of children exercising their lumberjack skills.
A team of children faced each other, gripping the handles of a two-man saw. Lifting back and forth in a swinging motion, the metal teeth carve the bark of a thin tree log. To the rhythm of folk music, the smiling duo triumphantly brings back the sliced ââlog in memory of their family.
Local farmers taught nearly 2,000 members of their Florida community about Florida agriculture at the Farm Bureau Food and Agriculture Festival and the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention.
Hosted by young farmers and ranchers at the Alachua County Agricultural Bureau, 21 vendors sold products ranging from cheese varieties to succulents. Food trucks have provided global cuisine ranging from Cuba to Venezuela and home with American hot dogs, barbecues and ice cream.
Young Farmers & Ranchers board member Kevin Korus said he started the festival with the vision of promoting education in Alachua County, bridging the gap between mindless trips to grocery stores and knowing where the food comes from.
âTo see their eyes light up,â Korus said. “We see people who don’t normally go out on the farm.”
Buying from local farms, Korus said, supports local economies, lowers shipping costs and protects the environment. It minimizes the ecological effects of maritime transport and guarantees the freshness of food.
âYou don’t ship steak across the United States,â Korus said. âYou buy them local. “
The festival also creates a way for local farmers to expand their reach, he said. The free opening of the Cade Museum is a big draw for the community.
Kevin Lussier and his family start milking their 80 Jersey cows before sunrise at 5 a.m.
In the midst of this daily discipline, Lussier, the owner of Hawthorne Creek Creamery, still went to the festival to show off the work of his small artisan dairy farm that produces cheese: gouda, havarti, Swiss and tomme.
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After 60 days of aging, he said, the cheese is arriving at local restaurants and will soon be on the shelves of Publix and Winn-Dixie supermarkets.
Lussier said that when people drive by or pick up orders, they realize it’s a family operation.
âIt’s a passion for us,â said Lussier. âWe are with these animals every day. We make sure that these animals are cared for.
Lussier is also the chairman of the Alachua County agricultural office for young farmers and ranchers and said this event was special for him. He is happy to be back after the festival break in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
âThey can come here and get a feel for what our world is like,â Lussier said. “We’re trying to connect a non-farm audience with the farming that’s in their backyard.”
Especially during the pandemic, Lussier saw a lot of consolidation in the agriculture industry and supply chain issues. The festival, he said, shows how farmers from all industries are passionate about what they do and work amid the challenges of the industry.
âWe are proud to be able to feed this country,â he said. “It’s just nice to be able to make the cheese over there in Hawthorne.”
The other participants were drawn to a single showcase. Inside, they saw swarms of crawling bees. The worker bees hustled over each other, taking care of their queen and their hive.
Tatiana Sanchez, wearing silver earrings, said she wanted people to appreciate pollinators, working as a commercial horticultural officer for Alachua County and the UF-IFAS extension.
âThey are such an important part of farming,â Sanchez said. âEveryone needs to eat.
Further on in the rows of tents stood a goat gathered by children. His fluffy blue eyes and goatee are inviting, and kids kiss his white fur and befriend him.
A farm goat at heart, Jack never left his home in Archer ââ until Saturday. It’s his debut in the big city, and he soaks up all the sounds and sights. The 2-year-old Nigerian dwarf goat is generally a breed of meat goat. But Jack is just a pet.
âYou are a very lucky goat,â passers-by told him.
“Baaah”, replied the goat.
Jack is owned by Mary Lee Sale, who brought him to her farm to teach her son farming as he grew up.
âIt makes them put something else before themselves,â Sale said.
She helps children aged 5-18 to work on projects ranging from areas such as citizenship, communication and the creative arts as part of the 4-H program. She teaches them leadership, empathy and other life skills within UF-IFAS and the County Partnership.
Lee Sale said she was happy to see all the families with young children at the festival.
âWhat’s cool is that kids want to do this, they don’t shy away from it,â she said.
Although the 4-H program has grown, she said her roots remain in agriculture.
âEverything you wear comes from farming,â Sale said. “The roads you drive on, the cars you drive on – everything has roots in agriculture.”
As the festival’s organizer, Korus said he hopes it will include more vendors representing all local produce, from dairy, beef and goat to watermelon, strawberries and squash.
âWhatever you grow locally, we want you to be represented here at the event,â Korus said.
The Young Farmers & Ranchers are planning to host another festival in the fall of 2022.
Contact Alexandra Harris at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.
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Alexandra is a leading journalist specializing in science and environment reporting for The Alligator. Her work has been published in The Gainesville Sun and she has filed for public recording for the Why Don’t We Know investigative podcast. She is passionate about the environment.