Everyone, and their mother, knows the importance of a diet grounded in vegetables.
Brian Lapinski helps feed the First Coast’s growing hunger for fresher versions of these products.
He is the founder and primary operator of Down to Earth Farm in Jacksonville. He started the farm six years ago when he and his wife, Kristin, purchased a block of land in the west side of Jacksonville that would become their home and his livelihood. “We just had a dream one day that we wanted to be farmers,” states Brian, when asked how he got his start.
Brian studied sociology and community development at the University of Florida, but there was no history of farming in his family. It was during his time in Gainesville that he really began to cultivate his knowledge of farming practices. He would spend at least one day a week working at a local farm to learn some of the nuances of managing the operation. In addition, he and Kristin traveled to Australia and New Zealand where they spent time working on organic farms in exchange for room and board. The Australian program was part of a worldwide venture that connects workers with farms to learn organic growing concepts.
Down to Earth maintains a small employee base. Brian, and three other fulltime employees, are responsible for the lion’s share of the labor. Kristin works as a nurse and they also have two young girls. Last January, they expanded and bought some vacant land next to their property to give them a total of five acres, and they are steadily putting it to use. “Each year, we plow a little more into the margins, so the field has gotten a little bigger,” he states. Unlike larger farm operations, Brian manages a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Included in some of his recent yields are strawberries, kale, cauliflower, carrots and Chinese broccoli. “We are not a monoculture, we grow 60 to 70 types of vegetables,” states Brian.
Down to Earth currently serves 32 families in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. These CSA’s are funded by families who purchase a subscription, usually on an annual basis, to a portion of the farmer’s crop. The CSA is a way for farmers to obtain operating income and reduce marketing efforts, so more attention can be given to growing fresh food.
Local farmers markets is how Down to Earth is typically discovered by new customers. The farm also uses Facebook to share pictures and updates with the community. In addition, Brian also sends out a weekly e-mail to over a thousand subscribers which shares the highlights of the growing season. You can find Brian selling his crops at the Riverside Arts Market, as well as the Beaches Green Market and the newly-formed King St. Market, which is hosted by Intuition Ale Works near downtown Jacksonville. Brian estimates that Down to Earth serves hundreds of customers at the weekend markets and their business model is tough for the big grocery stores to match. “We are bringing it to market one day after picking it. Not many people can say that,” states Brian.