Sara Warren, from Loaming Junipers farm in Wewahitchka, tends to her produce while her 5-month-old daughter Willow is all bundled up on the knees of Sara’s mom, Susan Conkling. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Fresh from Florida’s Panhandle: Fruits and veggies abound at Apalachicola’s Farmers Market

There are plenty of great vendors of quality jewelry, art, photography and handmade items at Apalachicola’s Farmers Market, held every second and fourth Saturday at the Mill Pond pavilion.

But what further distinguishes the Apalach market from others around the county is that it is anchored by three purveyors of fresh edibles, including meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Each of the three with a lavish table set up under the pavilion, Providence Farms from Quincy offers fresh beef and eggs, dried apple slices and flavored bacon jerky, oyster mushrooms and varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables, all raised on the Blount family’s 115-year-old 300-acre farm in Gadsden County.

Next to Ann Blount’s tables are those from Loaming Juniper Farms in Wewahitchka, a much different “small spin” greenhouse operation run by the Warren family, that specializes nearly entirely in vegetables.

And across from them are Barnhart Farms, out of Monticello, run by Erik Barnhart, that offers a range of exotic fruits and vegetables, several of them harvested in locations throughout Florida.

A retired University of Florida professor, with a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics, Ann Blount held a faculty position at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, and in 2018, was honored by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as its Woman of the Year in Agriculture.

On Saturday, she quickly sold out of her “silkie eggs,” a smaller egg laid by a breed of chicken that originated in Asia and was so-named for its atypically fluffy plumage, which is said to feel like silk and satin. 

The eggs are raised as starter projects by 4-Hers in Gadsden County where Blount’s daughter Evie, who holds a bachelor’s degree in crop and soil science, works with youth at the extension office.

Blount’s spry 90-something mom Harriett, who grew up and lived in New York before moving on to the farm, is also in attendance. Providence offered three variety of eggs along with fresh beef, as well as tomatoes, green peppers and jalapenos. 

For the Warrens, their quarter-acre Loaming Juniper Farms has seen steady growth over the last four years, as Sara Warren and her husband have perfected the art of spin farming, which focuses on turning small vegetable crops, mostly raised in greenhouses covered in shade cloth, in under 90 days.

The varieties of lettuce can take as little as 30 days, turnips about 40 and scallions as long as 70 or 80 days, and the idea is to spin through them without tying up space and thus maximizing profit for the operation they are devoted to full-time.

Varying the use of shade cloth on greenhouses can use ultraviolet light effectively, ensuring that crops are not harmed by either too cold or too hot temperatures.

On Saturday, with her 5-month-old daughter Willow snugly bundled up, Warren offered everything from swiss chard, kale, collard greens and lettuces to turnips, bok choy, spinach, and scallions.

“We harvested everything yesterday,” she said, noting that when temperatures are suitable, she’ll raise some outside.

For Erik Barnhart, the attraction is exotic fruits and vegetables, which he touts for their freshness and health benefits. On Saturday, the pink pineapples were popular, as well as the dragon fruit, papayas and soursop. 

With an aroma similar to pineapple, the flavor of soursop has been described as a combination of strawberries and apple with sour citrus flavor notes, contrasting with an underlying thick creamy texture reminiscent of banana.

Soursop is widely promoted (sometimes as “graviola”) as an alternative cancer treatment, although research is scarce that it has been proven effective for treating cancer or any disease.

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