Bradford County, Florida, is a place where time has stood still the past 150 years.
For Farmer John Steyer, the owner of the humble produce stand that local residents have become accustomed to seeing at the Wednesday Union Street Farmers Market, this is the appeal.
He’s been making an appearance every week since close to the time the farmers market started in 1996.
Steyer bought 24 acres of land in Bradford County in 1960 and has been growing his veggies there ever since.
“I only use 2 acres for planting,” Steyer said. “Somehow I knew, you need to save the trees, because that’s where our fresh air and clean water comes from.”
On his property, pine and cypress trees grow unbothered.
Every Wednesday, you can find him unpacking his beat-up Dodge Ram and pruning his fresh produce at 3 p.m. He will stay at the farmers market the entire time, working on putting out box after box of produce that he keeps covered in ice as he sells what’s already out.
“Leafy greens, that’s our specialty,” Steyer said.
Stacked on top of wooden crates that are covered with burlap sacks, the treasure trove of cheap, local produce makes its colorful display.
Everything on the top row is $1, everything on the bottom row is $2, Steyer explained.
Of course it depends on the week, but you can count on some items always making an appearance.
Arugula, rainbow chard, bok choy, turnips, lettuce, kale, broccoli, celery and all kinds of different produce glow chlorophyll-green under the Florida heat.
“I had a garden back home in Ohio,” Steyer said. “When I was around 5 years old I remember competing with my friends (over our gardens).”
Steyer remembers putting baskets upside down and selling his produce.
“Just like this,” he said as he pointed to his current produce stand at the market.
Steyer saw an opportunity in the tropical climate of Florida to try growing things he couldn’t back in Ohio.
“60 inches of rain a year when I first came here,” Steyer said. “That’s rainforest level.”
Turmeric, hibiscus and ginger are some of the things he grows during summer.
“There’s not a week that passes that I don’t grow something,” Steyer said.
You can purchase the turmeric, which Steyer has become known for, for $1, $3 or $5, depending on the weight. Turmeric has been shown to have natural agents that combat Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and cancer. Being able to purchase it locally in Florida is truly a treat.
“I turned 80 last November,” Steyer said. “And I’m gonna keep going.”
You can find Steyer, who locals lovingly refer to as Farmer John while passing his stand, at the Union Street Farmers Market every Wednesday and at the Alachua County Farmers Market every Saturday.