Food expo, film show benefits home-grown products

You don’t have to dig deep to see that Gainesville’s soil is ripe with growth.

On Sunday, the Citizens Co-op sponsored two sold-out showings of Robert Kenner’s « Food, Inc. »

The show attracted more than 200 people and raised $1,060 to go toward opening a community-owned grocery store in Gainesville, said Robert Matrone, cinema manager at the Hippodrome State Theatre.

« Food, Inc. » is a 30-minute documentary that details the negative health effects of hormone-injected meats, pesticide-sprayed fruits and vegetables, the increasing number of food-related E.Coli and obesity cases and the detrimental effect that our industrial food market has on smaller farms and communities.

« The movie can leave you feeling hopeless and depressed, but the Co-op wanted to offer people the information but also show the thriving community that Gainesville already has established around food, » said Liz Nesbit, a co-founder of the Co-op. « We want people to come out of the film and not feel like, ‘What can I do?’ but, ‘How can I become a part of the solution?' »

The Co-op also held a food expo in connection with « Food, Inc. » More than 10 vendors sold their home-grown products from Gainesville, Micanopy, Melrose, Ocala and other surrounding areas. There was a showcase of plants and herbs, including included shiitake mushrooms, ginger roots, peppermint, unpasteurized milk, sweet habanero peppers, rosemary and soap made from goat milk.

James Steele, owner of The Herb Garden Nursery in Melrose, has been growing fruits and herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes for more than 40 years. He used his knowledge and resources to create www.gainesvillefarmfresh.com, a networking site for those interested in growing, producing or purchasing locally home-grown products.

« I love interacting with my food, growing what I’m eating and helping customers with the herbs that they’re growing, » Steele said, as he jumped at the opportunity to give a passer-by advice on how to tend to her aloe roots. « I’m also seeing that people appreciate the growth process and like knowing where their food comes from. »

Five members are needed to commit to a location and building for the community grocery market, which would distribute fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, eggs, meat, seafood and herbs on a weekly basis. There were more than 400 members at the event.

« I’m really pleased with the turnout. It’s satisfying to see how easy it’s been to pull something like this off, » Nesbit said. « We have lots of support and a lot of people want to see something like this put into fruition. »

Membership is $100 and gives partial ownership to the store, meaning that you get a say with the board of directors, what items are to be placed on shelves, and at the end of the year, all the profits get redistributed back to the owners. If 500 members join, the Co-op will open the community-owned grocery store in the fall of 2010.