Land Lovers: Geraldson Community Farm
Nestled in northwest Bradenton near Robinson Preserve and Palma Sola Botanical Garden is a farm that’s leading the way in community outreach.
In many ways, Geraldson Community Farm is like other farms: The people who work there are dedicated and passionate, and the fate of the produce it grows on its 20 acres often depends on the weather.
Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a farm that has as much of a community connection.
When Operations Manager Christa Leonard speaks of the ways that Geraldson, a certified organic farm, connects with local locavores or organizations, she speaks enthusiastically.
First, there’s the farm’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, in its seventh season. The CSA season runs from November to May. Members decide if they want to receive a weekly or biweekly share, and then they enjoy the fruits of the season, pun intended. A CSA membership offers fresh, local carrots, lettuce, leeks, eggplant, turnips, hot peppers, and other items, depending on what’s in season. Shares for the new CSA season will go on sale this month. Those interested should sign up early, as the current season has had a long waiting list, says Leonard.
The farm participates in the Bradenton Farmers’ Market, the Phillippi Creek Farmhouse Market, and hosts its own Palma Sola Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 11am to 3pm. In addition to produce, you can buy paintings, bee pollen and local honey, goat’s milk, and even tacos or pumpkin candy—and visitors can pet the goats that are there on Sunday.
“We have a consistent following from people who want to eat local,” says Leonard.
Yet that’s not all. The farm also hosts a monthly market and occasional special events with the craft brewing company Darwin Brewing in Bradenton. Geraldson supports a number of local food vendors that rely on quality produce. It holds a fall festival for fun and to showcase locally based food vendors. There are school group tours to show kids that what they eat doesn’t just come from the back of the supermarket.
Then there’s the connection with Sarasota’s Indigenous Restaurant. When Leonard and Indigenous chef Steven Phelps met, they formed a fast bond over their passion for eating local, and that led to a farm visit from Phelps.
“It was three hours, and we were just walking through the farm. It was bad weather, but it was just amazing,” he said. That stroll led to a commitment from Leonard to supply produce to the restaurant, which Phelps uses in a variety of dishes, from pickled Hungarian wax peppers to culinary magic with baby carrots, Sun Gold tomatoes, or watermelon radishes, among other items.
“I like working with what a farmer gives me,” says Phelps—and that’s why Leonard will let him know she’s got “presents” for him in the form of delectable produce he’ll turn into creative dishes at Indigenous.
“Christa is the perfect example of someone who loves eating, cooking, and growing food. She’s passionate about it,” Phelps says.
“Steve is one of our biggest supporters,” says Leonard, a former behavior therapist who volunteered at Geraldson on her birthday about three years ago. She loved farm life so much that she began to volunteer regularly. She then worked as a farmhand and later became manager.
The farm itself started in 2007, although its Manatee County location has long been farmland. The farm began as part of an arrangement with Florida West Coast Resource Conservation & Development, but it is now self-sustaining.
Leonard wants to instill in the Sarasota and Bradenton community an appreciation for eating local and an understanding of where food comes from. The farm is currently raising funds for a summer camp for kids age 6 to 12.
“We just want to get ’em out in the dirt and teach them about the land,” Leonard says. The camp would give attendees the chance to try produce they might not have eaten before—and would probably be more open if it’s picked fresh on the farm.
“If we get ’em to try it, then we’ll see the magic happen,” says Leonard. That’s something any health-conscious parent can appreciate.
Leonard also is making arrangements with local schools and youth organizations for future partnerships.
All of the efforts from Geraldson Community Farm to change the way we eat and enjoy local food have not gone unnoticed. The farm has earned the top spot in the Farm/ Farmer category in Edible Sarasota’s Local Hero awards, announced in this issue.