Farmer Jenise- Farm Manager

Greetings Farmily! I am so excited to be here at Sweetwater. It is my pleasure to serve such a wonderful community of people nestled smack dab in the middle of Town N Country. I have a loving husband, Kevin and we have four beautiful children, Jordan, 15; Lailah, 11; Jaden, 8 and Lauryn, 5. We moved here in July 2014 from Beacon, New York. There we enjoyed a close knit community in a small town of progressive “millennium hippies” who loved nature, the arts and wholesome healthy eating! Main street, a 15-minute walk from our home was the residence of only privately owned small businesses like the town Bread Baker, the best micro-roasted Caribbean coffee shop, art galleries, antique shops, the best retro consignment stores, Yoga studios, a grass-fed burger joint, local beer brewery, handspun yarn store, a chocolatier, and a state of the art museum. When we made the decision to move to Tampa, I longed to find a little taste of my former home and I found it right here at Sweetwater.

A long time member and volunteer of CSA, my love affair with healthy eating has been going on for the last 14 years. Our courtship began after two major events: one miraculous – the birth of my eldest son; and one tragic -the death of my grandmother. While my first born was thriving beautifully, enjoying a bounty of new flavors as he transitioned to solid food, my grandmother was perishing, her body withering from disease and unable to consume even a morsel of food. I was devastated and confused. Why was such a simple, beautiful woman dying such a tragic death? What caused the disease that ravaged her body? I needed to know what causes this cancer. At the time, popular knowledge purported cancer was more “caught” than caused. My research revealed something much different. A friend of mine, a self-proclaimed “millennium Hippie” introduced me to the dirty word, “carcinogens” – the agent that causes cancer in living tissue. She educated me, quite to my surprise, on the plethora of ingredients readily available in our food from fresh to processed, meat to dairy that contain these dirty little secrets. It became very apparent to me how I played a key role in adding life or death to my child simply by what I fed him. I cleared out my pantry and refrigerated and literally started over. My grocery budget sky-rocketed! I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to replace my processed goodies with certified organic processed goodies, but my budget and my waistline couldn’t support it. I decided to keep it simple: cheap cuts of grassfed meat, small amounts of raw dairy and lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables!

I prayed for a place where vegetables were fresh picked, grown without chemicals, and could be purchased from a local farm. A little pamphlet at a local store revealed there is such a place! And thus, I began a relationship with a CSA as a working member in New York which lead to Sweetwater once I arrived in Tampa. Now after 14 years of being a stay-at-home Mom (which I never could do), a dream seeded deep in my heart has sprouted! Through a challenging season; a long, hot summer; much, much hard work; exhaustive training; an eager wiliness to learn and a fervent passion to grow food for life, a farmer was born!

Rick – Founder of Sweetwater

My love for organic farming is a long story, a journey that began in 1979, but first a little history. I am a third generation Tampa native who grew up in a loving family not very far from the farm. I played, fished, swam and grew up in the wonderful Tampa Bay watershed. It was so different from what is now around us. After graduating with a degree in Engineering, I worked as an engineer for a very short time before realizing my love for organic gardening. It started with small back yard gardens that got bigger and bigger and are still getting bigger.

It was not long before I had given up my career as an engineer and started my first experience as an organic farmer up in Pasco County. In the late 70’s and early 80’s there was not much information on organic farming, but it was a very happy time, fumbling my way through the learning curve of becoming a farmer, not knowing any better. I actually rode my horse from my house to my farm 5 miles away every day for work. This quickly evolved into specialty sprouts and culinary herb business servicing fine restaurants from Sarasota to New Port Richey and all points in between going through several evolutions. It all got very big and hectic. In 1987, I purchased the land that Sweetwater now sits on and moved from Pasco County back to my native Tampa. I came to very much love the special spot on Sweetwater Creek that is now Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. In many ways I was returning to my childhood, canoeing the creek, once again returning to the water shed I so deeply loved, once again much closer to my loving family. I quickly developed this tiny piece of land into a very special market garden supplementing my service to local fine eating establishments.

In about 1990, the organic certification world was starting to take hold. For some reason, I decided to attend a training for organic inspectors in Aurora, Nebraska. It was in February and brutally cold for a boy from central Florida. Little did I know my life was about to change dramatically. It just so happened that my skill set was perfect for an industry desperately in need of qualified professionals. Within a year or two, from the connections I had made in Nebraska, I was traveling the world inspecting organic farms and processing facilities. The organic inspectors formed an association called the International Organic Inspectors Association, of which I was soon elected to the Board of Directors and eventually became President. This experience launched my career as an internationally recognized expert in organic regulatory rules. It was all incredibly rewarding work. This opportunity continues today as my other career that many of you may not be aware of.

The down side was that with all that travel my beloved farm was rapidly becoming abandoned. It was weighing heavily on my mind and heart. One day in 1992, while lamenting this situation with a dear friend, I came up with the idea of starting a “community farm”. He thought it was an excellent idea and offered to be the first member. So in early 1993, Sweetwater was officially, well, maybe not so officially, born. We started with 7 members and fumbled our way through it. Little by little with the steady support of dear friends and family, Sweetwater began to evolve and bloom like some rare, unknown flower, with us all gingerly nourishing her growth, not really knowing where we were headed. Meanwhile I was traveling more than ever, visiting some of the most amazing farms in Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, thousands of farms growing anything from coffee, cacao, quinoa, sesame, grains, fruits, vegetables of all shapes and sorts, all the while collecting ideas for our own dear farm back home. As of late, I have lost the lust for travel and have become more and more a home body.

So much has happened during this journey it is hard to get it all into words. So many wonderful people have contributed their hearts and souls to our Sweetwater, have nurtured it and helped it grow from that seed of an idea to the unbelievably wonderful farm we now all call our own.

There have been so many ups and downs, funny stories, success and failures. During this time the bloom has blossomed to nearly 400 families. Over 10,000 school children have visited Sweetwater to learn about healthy food. It has all far exceeded my wildest dreams and imagination of what it would day become, and fills my heart beyond words. I am deeply indebted to all of you who have become part of the richest experience anyone could hope for. I thank our wonderful staff, those who are here now, who have come and gone, who all remain so dear to my heart. I thank all of our wonderful families, the children, many of whom I first met as lumps in their mother’s bellies as they rounded the share barn every week, the volunteers, musicians, vendors, the thousands of school children who have visited, all who have added their spirit to the tapestry we now call Sweetwater. This is truly the real reward, the true harvest of all our efforts.

The seasons pass, the fallow fields are tilled once again, nourished and seeded. With all of our past effort, all the love we have given the earth and each other, brings new crops, new faces, new people to share this special experience with. In this way, all those have come before, their efforts continue to live on. This is growing community from the ground up.

Each season I continue to be amazed, when I think it cannot get any better, it does. So here is my toast to our best season yet!! Thanks to all of you!!

See you all soon on the farm.