New Ways to Get Your Greens
Glenda Raley was in awe of The Villages Grown farm when she got a peek inside.
“It just blew me away,” she said.
Raley is one of about 560 people who have taken a behind-the-scenes look at The Villages Grown’s operations since tours began in June. After the tour participants can can purchase the locally grown produce at a new farmstand set up in front of the greenhouses.
“Anybody who is very supportive of local farms always wants to have that connection point to whoever’s growing their food, and this gives the residents that first real tangible glance into the farm,” said Rebecca Reis-Miller, director of business development and distribution for The Villages Grown. “So they not only are meeting their growers, but they’re actually seeing how their food is grown and then educating them about every facet of the operation during that time.”
Since opening in 2019, The Villages Grown has worked to become more available to the local community in response to demand. Staff began giving tours June 20 of the greenhouse facilities off State Road 44 near Rohan Recreation so anyone can learn about how they grow the produce for their 4,000 weekly shipments.
In just four years of existence, The Villages Grown’s operations have expanded rapidly. The farming operation currently harvests about 52,000 heads of lettuce, 650 pounds of microgreens and 2,000 pounds of herbs per week. A year ago, they were harvesting 22,000 heads of lettuce, 401 pounds of microgreens and 550 pounds of herbs weekly.
As operations expanded, so did local demand to learn about the farm. Five of the seven days of tours offered so far sold out completely.
During the 45-minute tours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, people can see the entire growing process from planting seeds to harvesting crops. They also learn about the technology The Villages Grown uses, like an artificial intelligence software that helps control the climate in the greenhouses.
“I was surprised by the technology involved and the sheer volume that they produce,” said Raley, of the Village of Marsh Bend. “I had no idea it was that much.”
Raley loves to cook and buys produce from The Villages Grown. She took photos of as much as she could on the tour so she can show everyone where her food comes from. She plans to possibly take another tour and bring friends with her.
“I think it’s great, and anybody who has an interest in food at all should come check this out,” she said.
In addition to its retail store at The Market at Sawgrass Grove, The Villages Grown’s produce also is sold at local Publix and Winn-Dixie locations. In June, The Villages Grown also became accessible through Kroger Delivery.
The tours added another retail option for residents: a farmstand, housed inside the airstream that used to be The Villages Grown’s mobile market, located in front of the greenhouses. After tours, guests can go inside and shop for produce, merchandise and artisanal goods.
The farmstand also is open to the public on tour days from 4 to 6:30 p.m., around the same time as the tours.
The Villages Grown staff likes being more accessible to the community and sharing more about what they do.
“I love that you can get fresh and local produce right to your doorstep or at the farmers markets, and I’m so happy that the residents can actually come and take a tour of where their food comes from,” said Kaitlyn “KK” Kuehn, The Villages Grown program event assistant. “I think that’s a really important detail. I think more people should have fruits and vegetables in their diet. It’s very nice that we can actually educate on top of providing fresh and local produce.”
Senior writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or email@example.com.