Local farmers bring their products to JU

First-ever Farmers Market brought to campus


Arturo Cole, director of online marketing and development for the center for teaching and learning, (right) sells his home-made jams, marmalades, vinegars and dried fruits at the first-ever Farmer’s Market at Jacksonville University, March 4.

The hands and minds of local artisans, farmers and shoppers met below a soft mist of afternoon rain Wed. March 5 in an exchange of goods and ideas that marked the first-ever Farmers Market at Jacksonville University.

Assembled outside the Bartlett Kinne University Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the market served as an open forum for creators from the Jacksonville area, including those from within the JU community, to showcase and sell their artistic and agricultural productions on campus.

Drawn in by the sounds of talk, laughter and student musicians playing in the market, shoppers explored the market where sifting through the stands, they could catch a glimpse of the local flavor that lies beyond university gates.

“I don’t think that many people who go to this school actually know much about Jacksonville in general, as in what they can actually get here and the people they can meet,” said Cecelia Matthews, junior exercise science major as she manned a table selling glass blown works of art crafted by herself and other students. “I think that bringing [the farmer’s market] here opens people’s eyes up to what’s actually in the city, which is a really cool place but people don’t know.”

One of the visiting local farmers was Elia Ballas of Gyo Greens, who came to JU from Ponte Vedra Beach with a bounty of herbs and greens and a small fish tank garden in tow. From his stand, he showcased how the nearby farm is able to sustainably grow organic produce through a system called aquaponics.

“Basically what we do is focus on the symbiotic relationship between plants and fish,” Ballas said.

The aquaponics farm uses system of 1,000 koi to support its plant life. Nutrients from a main fish tank flow into a trough placed above, where the root systems of plants are able to absorb and utilize them. In turn, the same roots act as a filter for the water, which allows it to flow back clean into the fish tank.

“You can support a small community with a very small amount of land,” Ballas said. “If everyone kind of works together, you can have fresh local produce and you don’t have to worry about shipping, or the curiosity of where it actually came from, if it’s actually organic.”

In another booth, Arturo Cole, director of online marketing and development for the center for teaching and learning, brought an ensemble of colorful homemade jams, jellies, marmalades, syrups, infused vinegars and dried fruits to market.

Cole practices jam making as an avid after-work hobby, and typically sells his kitchen creations on Saturdays at the farmers market in Fernindina Beach.

“I started baking and making my own cakes and I got tired of the same old fillings, so I started making my own and that evolved into jam making,” Cole said.

Renee Pharis, sophomore sociology major, and Samara Generals, junior nursing major, took a different approach to their farmer’s market booth. Instead of selling items they created personally, Pharis and Generals used the market as an opportunity to fund Pura Vida, a charity which sells bracelets to help provide full-time jobs for artisans in Costa Rica. Pharis volunteers as a campus rep for the organization.

At the market, Pharis and Generals sold approximately 12 bracelets, with all of the collected funds going to Pura Vida. Pharis also hosts a Facebook page, facebook.com/puravidabraceletsjacksonville, where she sells bracelets for the cause.

“It’s just me saying that I support their organization and giving the jobs to people in Costa Rica,” Pharis said. “I signed up for it because I thought it was a really cool cause.”

The JU farmers market was brought to JU through the ideas and efforts of Nisse Goldberg, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and marine science, and Lauren Hinks, junior Spanish and sustainability double major, who began planning and organizing for it in September.

“Finding the farmers was the most difficult part, but once we did it all kind of fell into place,” Hinks said.

Hinks hopes that the farmer’s market will take root as a new tradition for the JU campus and plans to set up markets at least once a semester in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Local farmer’s markets take the consumer experience away from the assembly lines, corporations, fluorescent-lit store fronts and plastic packaging familiar to common day shoppers, to a more open, simple transaction. Money is given to a person rather than a company, goods come from a nearby, straightforward source, and craftsmen buyers have the opportunity to meet eye-to-eye.

“There are so many different farmers markets and local farmers,” Hinks said. “It’s really important for the environment to eat locally and I think it’s important to know what’s out there in Jacksonville and what our own students and faculty are making also.”