The Villages Grown Expands Reach; Sells at Earth Fare Locations
The Villages’ year-round farm operation supplies lettuce, herbs and microgreens for all the chain’s stores in the state.
With mutual missions to expand access to local, nutritious food, The Villages Grown and Earth Fare felt like a natural pairing to Jennifer Waxman.
“We’re the only year-round farm operation in the state of Florida, if not the Southeast U.S., with a full diverse product line that’s hyperlocal and focused on taste and nutrients,” said Waxman, The Villages Grown’s executive director. “And Earth Fare has a very big commitment to local — especially in produce.”
Shoppers who visit the new Lady Lake Earth Fare supermarket, which opened November, will find The Villages Grown’s assortment of herbs, lettuce and microgreens. The Villages Grown grows its line of produce in controlled environment
greenhouses on a farm near State Road 44 and Morse Boulevard.
At the same time as the Lady Lake store’s opening, the farm-to-table initiative of The Villages began distributing its
products to all of the organic supermarket chain’s Florida stores.
Besides Lady Lake, Earth Fare also has locations in Ocala, Orlando, Seminole (near Tampa) and St. Johns (near Jacksonville). This expansion of The Villages Grown’s reach in its goal of providing locally grown, nutrient-dense produce to as many Floridians as possible builds on their distribution to Publix supermarkets, which began this summer.
“We’ve been talking to (Earth Fare) for about a year,” Waxman said. “They have a really big focus on local (products) and they said, ‘We want your whole line, we want you to be our local partner, and we want to give you your own section like Publix.”
Earth Fare offers a wide selection of The Villages Grown products, including varieties of microgreens as well as microgreen flights of four different types curated for health and wellness. Eventually, Waxman wants to add more products at both supermarkets. “We’ll be expanding our product line to get more unique items on the shelf in the coming year,” she said. Specifically, that means more microgreen varieties and possibly tomatoes — the produce that gives Earth Fare its logo.
Earth Fare, a grocery store chain that launched in 1975 in Asheville, North Carolina, as Dinner for the Earth, has a stated commitment to sell all Certified Organic produce grown without chemicals and pesticides, according to its website.
The chain’s stores also strive to source as many products as possible that are local to the communities they serve, Waxman said. That’s where The Villages Grown comes in.
Controlled environment agriculture like The Villages Grown allows for greater consistency in the quality and quantity of produce, which is a barrier that keeps many local growers from selling to supermarkets, said Adam Wright, The Villages Grown’s director of operations.
Consistency was key to The Villages Grown’s success with its distribution to Publix, he said. And its success at Publix served as a gateway to Earth Fare, Waxman said.
She added that Earth Fare also took interest based on articles she shared about The Villages Grown and the
health benefits of microgreens and local produce rich in nutrients. It’s how Waxman works to call greater attention to The Villages Grown’s “food as medicine” philosophy.
“It would be eating from the rainbow for optimum wellness,” she said, referring to a concept involving eating fruits and vegetables of different colors each day. “And we provide a product with higher nutrients, better taste and a better shelf life.”
Waxman also likes that Earth Fare is supportive not only of The Villages Grown, but also its artisan partners. The store sells products from the Gainesville-based Aha Pure Foods, which makes vinaigrette salad dressings from The Villages Grown’s microgreens, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The Villages Grown intends to continue to expand its reach in and around the community. Partnerships with the home-delivery service Heirloom and another grocery chain, Sprouts Farmers Market, are in the works, Waxman said. And The Villages Grown continues to offer produce at its Brownwood retail store and smaller retailers like Brown’s Country Market in Oxford and Earth Origins in Ocala.
Despite grocers like Earth Fare having a presence in states other than Florida, Waxman does not see The Villages Grown expanding to other states. She sees the initiative as “by Florida, for Florida.” “We have mouths to feed in our own state,” she said. “And that’s where our focus is going to be.”