Juicy Roots Farm: A Growing Enterprise
On a shady lane off a quiet rural road in Duval county, we make our way down a driveway covered with a canopy of green and emerge into a sunny clearing. To our left sits a house and yard, to the right is a barn, a small pond, fruit trees and sheep. Morning activities at Juicy Roots Farm are already underway, and soon the farm's owner, Jessi Patti, along with her two boys, come out to greet us. Jessi and her husband, Ian, are the stewards of this 10 acre working oasis of land. Ian is a data scientist who works from home and Jessi has become the day-to-day driving force behind their farming operation. In addition to raising sheep, chickens and home-schooling two sons, she tends to most aspects of their garden's production, while also managing the farm's marketing and delivery efforts. At the moment, they primarily grow vegetables and fresh herbs for consumers at local farmers markets -- but they've also got their sights set on expanding their reach. We caught up with Jessi for a tour of their farmstead and to learn more about sustainable food production at this small, but mighty, local farm.
What is your background? How did you get into farming?
I started farming while I was in college in 2002 at the University of Florida studying Botany. I knew that I wanted a career where I got to spend the majority of my time outside and while I was there I got introduced to small farms, food security and the local food movement. I started volunteering with an organization called Neighborhood Nutrition Network where we worked with high school students who were learning to grow and sell produce at the farmers' market in Gainesville. While farming with these teens, I fell completely in love with growing vegetables and the taste and beauty of farm fresh food and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the garden and sharing what I grew. I went on to spend the next several years working and learning at farms in Tampa, Pennsylvania, Costa Rica and North Carolina. Fast forward to a wedding, a few moves and two sweet little boy babies and we were back in our hometown, Jacksonville. We bought our 10-acre farm in Northwest Jax in 2014 and have been building it since then. I have been so excited to start my business this season and share the wonderful produce I am growing with the Jacksonville community.
What do you grow or raise at Juicy Roots?
I grow seasonal vegetables with an emphasis on salad mixes and cooking greens, culinary herbs and a few medicinal herbs. I also make infused vinegars and honeys, dried tea blends and herbal elixirs -- all with homegrown herbs. I believe that food should be fresh, beautiful and nutrient-dense. I use regenerative farming methods in my garden that go beyond organic standards, so my customers can be sure that there are no toxic pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers on their produce.
What do you think should be done to encourage more young people to consider farming as a career?
In the last few years, we have been experiencing a resurgence of small scale local farms throughout North America. New, profitable business models have come out with farmers boasting produce sales of up to $100,000 a year on as little as ¼ acre of land and these farmers are teaching their methods in affordable online courses, in-person workshops and hundreds of free YouTube videos. I think young people need to know that farming can most definitely be a profitable venture if it is approached in a systematic way with modern business skills as well as a passion for growing delicious food. Access to land is another challenge -- but countrywide, micro-farmers are having success in sunny yards, their own and borrowed from their neighbors. In this country, we need to do away with lawns and all of the toxic chemicals needed to maintain them, and free up all of that space for growing healthy, nutritious food.
What has been the biggest surprise or challenge while farming?
My biggest surprise and joy has definitely been the enthusiasm for all of my products. Jacksonville is truly part of the gourmet food scene, and is craving unique, hand-crafted, fresh products. People at the market have been so open-minded and eager to try veggies and herbs that may be new and different to them. It really warms my heart and makes me feel grateful to farm in this wonderful city.
My biggest challenge has been finding enough time to work in the garden while homeschooling my 6 and 9 year old sons, all the while figuring out how to start a business from scratch. Although this is a challenge, I do have to remind myself that they are learning some really valuable life skills as well as some amazing science by helping me in the garden and at the market. They’ve raised chicks, helped lambs be born and know way more about plants than most adults. They love the farm and the business and seem to be thriving here.
What else can be done to support local agriculture?
I am really encouraged by local food hubs and local produce delivery services that make it easier for farmers to sell their products and for people to conveniently access farm fresh food. As a farmer who works primarily by myself, it is challenging to be the person planting, tending, harvesting, washing, packaging, marketing and delivering all of the produce that I grow. The farmer wears a huge number of hats in a day. At the same time, while farmers' markets are lovely and fun, not everyone can make the time to visit them regularly. A local food hub in Jacksonville could bring together the best in homegrown farm products. That would be a huge asset to the farmers in the area and would provide the larger community with access to beautiful, fresh, delicious food.
Where can your products be found?
You can find my products at the Beaches Green Market on Saturdays and the Arts District Market on Wednesdays from November through June. I am looking into opportunities to bring our products to central Jacksonville starting in the Fall of 2018. I'm not selling to any area restaurants at this time, but I would love to begin selling some of our unique and fragrant herbs to chefs, craft cocktail makers and breweries in the coming year.
Want to learn more about Juicy Roots Farm and what they're growing locally? Visit them online at www.juicyrootsfarm.com.