The sun is not guaranteed to shine in Moncrief Springs, but light may soon seep into a food desert after the recent opening of Eartha’s Farm & Market.
The 10-acre urban farm, spanning Moncrief Creek and nestled next to railroad tracks, will hold weekly farmer’s markets where herbs and vegetables will be sold alongside food vendors and other small businesses.
The Clara White Mission has owned the property for nearly 100 years. Farmer’s market coordinator Trey Ford says the market also host training workshops throughout the year.
“We do regenerative organic farming and that requires biodiversity — from the soil, to the water, to the different types of plants growing together,” Ford said. “In my mind, people replicate that. Having people that are community leaders, having people who are business owners, aspiring business owners, people who want to learn the garden and, obviously, the consumers and community as well, that’s what makes this work.”
Eartha’s Farm & Market is the new name for an entity that was previously called White Harvest Farms. The name is designed to honor the property and the proprietor who cultivated an urban farm on it.
It was the former home of founder Eartha White. During her lifetime, she leased the land to Black farmers. Today, Clara White officials consider the farmer’s market a return to their roots because that was White’s initial use of the property.
Local and federal dollars helped build a 6,000 square foot building on the property that will provide space for vendors and local growers during the market.
Last week’s grand opening was timed to commemorate the 147th anniversary of Eartha Mary Magdeline’s White’s birth on Nov. 8. It also was because much of the Clara White Mission’s efforts have been focused on housing and helping veterans.
Going forward, the farm will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Mika Hardison-Carr expects to be on site.
Hardison-Carr operates an apiary, The Herban Bee, and has partnered with Eartha’s Farm & Market to establish beehives that will help pollinate crops on property.
She says experience as a homesteader in Oceanway, and attempting to pollinate cucumbers, squash and other vegetables, have given her an appreciation for maximizing yields and space in urban farming locales.
“The thing that I love the most about it is you don’t have anything like this around,” Hardison-Carr said. “People who live on the Northside don’t have a lot of options when it comes to fresh food and vegetables. I think there is a big impact to the community, economic wise. Vendors have a space that’s affordable for them to sell their wares. … When it comes to revitalize an area, or improve an area, that starts with economic opportunity. I think the best thing you can do for an area that wants to thrive and is trying to thrive is to bring small business. Start the focus there and then the community grows.”
Ford says the goal is to bring two dozen vendors on site each Saturday.
During the first market, Hardison-Carr’s infused honey products were so immensely popular that most of her options sold out. A few steps away, bottles of Ashley Street Heat — a hot sauce created by veterans who participate in the Clara White Mission’s housing program — were sold.
Red wiggler worms were on sale alongside coffee products, seeds, eggs, deodorizers and teas.
Sherice Owens has owned and operated Natural Attractions Air Deodorizers for five years. When she started the business in 2019, she held a corporate sales job; however, during the height of the pandemic she went all-in on her own business. She says Eartha’s Farm & Market provides an opportunity for emerging businesses like hers to thrive.
“We should always think outside of the box,” Owens said. “There are a lot of people out there that want to support thriving businesses. The only way to do that is to connect with communities that are doing that or introducing it to the public and there is no cost for them to come out and support.”
Owens said having people approach her to learn more about her business was a pleasant takeaway from the initial farmer’s market. She believes her business, and other businesses, need resources to grow — resources that can come from visibility at markets like Eartha’s.
Ford says his goal is to ensure last week’s grand opening is not a one-off, but a launching point for small and urban farmers in Northeast Florida to make the trek to an urban farm in the heart of Northwest Jacksonville.