This week, two of my greatest mentors in the local farming community graciously accepted my request (during the busiest time of year) to come visit them on their farm! Joe Durando and Trace Giornelli own Possum Hollow farm just 15 miles North of Gainesville. The first time I visited their farm was during this time of year, and it was just as magical then as it is now.
Joe and Trace’s land exudes beauty from the moment you pull into the driveway. Over the years they have scattered Coreopsis, Florida’s state wildflower, in meadows and under the shade of their Chestnut orchards. The thousands of golden flowers that blanket the ground are a feast for the eyes and soul, and give the farm an enchanted feeling. So genius!
Upon my arrival we cracked open a few cold ones and Trace guided me to meet Joe who was harvesting the first of the tomatoes in their new fields. We were greeted by their new, painfully adorable and fluffy puppy, Khoa. Recently, the couple purchased 20 acres of land bordering the 30 acres they have owned for roughly 20 years. I am in awe of how quickly they broke new ground and began producing beautiful vegetables and flowers from their newly acquired land.
Joe and Trace grow an awesome crop of Gladiolus that I am a bit envious of. They have been saving corms from season to season with great results. Once upon a time, Lee County Florida, where I'm from, was the Gladiolus capital of the WORLD. Early settlers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg brought them over and they adapted well to the rich soil and climate. Needless to say, I have to step my Glad game up.
After touring the new fields, we hopped in the truck and headed through the woods to the back fields which are guarded by an extensive deer fence that Trace built, and a fearsome bunny rabbit mascot.
The first field we came to was home to some drop-dead gorgeous lilies, of which some were also grown from saved bulbs. We grew some lilies for the first time this season, and they bloomed on stems about six inches long! I'm looking forward to learning more about this crop and trying again next season.
Strolling past their grape arbor, we chatted about all sorts of things. We shared frustrations about how the warm spring has caused many things to come on early. Rounds of Snapdragons and Sweet William, planted in succession to bloom over a period of weeks, are all blooming near the same time! We shared fears of not having enough in bloom for Mother's Day, our biggest flower market of the season. We talked about which sunflower varieties are blooming best and which are not making the cut. We moaned about how the week of heavy rain ruined this year's Status crop, and also flattened many other flowers. Part of me found relief in hearing experienced growers being challenged by some of the same things I am challenged by. I was also filled with so much gratitude for the wealth of information they so willingly shared.
As the sun set, we headed to a meadow near the house. There were two perfectly placed adirondack chairs facing the bat house that Trace (did I mention she's a bada$$ builder?) constructed over the course of a few summers. What an awesome idea! What an amazing place so filled with love and thoughtful intention! We watched as the bats flew out over the fields to gobble pesky insects.
When I first started farming, I pretty much wanted to be Trace when I grew up. Her market stand was always arranged so beautifully and artfully, it seemed to have a mystical aura around it. You can find her Saturday mornings at the Haile Village Farmer's Market. Joe, who's market stand is just as lovely, perhaps with a bit more masculine touch, can be found at the Union Street Farmer's Market, Wednesdays in downtown Gainesville. Seek them out and get yourself some goodness.