In June 2016, the former Brooksville City Manager and Parks Department planned a Farmers Market in Downtown Brooksville. Unfortunately, it was July, very hot and did not attract many customers at the time. Michael DeFelice was asked if he would help. Excellent timing, since DeFelice was struggling with where to sell produce, and also still learning how to farm.
Brooksville was also looking for a car show, a motorcycle show, and other activities to attract visitors to the city. DeFelice put all the pieces together, and formed the Hernando Growers Association (HGA), a 501c(3) non-profit organization from which the Brooksville Farmers Market, Brooksville Bike Rally and Cruise-In were born.
HGA’s board members are: Membership Director Angela Okrasinski, Director of New Farmer Relations Paul Ramos and Neen DeFelice, Director of Marketing and Operations. DeFelice’s wife, Ginger is the Vice President. The leadership structure has been effective, as evidenced by the success of the events.
Beginning in 2018, the bikes and cars with some live music differentiated Brooksville’s own from other farmers markets. Today, the bike rally and car show are held on different days, and the HGA partners with Brooksville Main Street to host the Cruise-In.
The main focus however is growing stable agriculture and providing everyone access to fresh local food.
The Little Rock Cannery, which was used by local residents and visitors, is equipped with a commercial-grade kitchen, complete with everything but the jars one would use to preserve their fruits, vegetables and sauces. The cannery closed in May of 2019, when it’s sole employee left for medical reasons.
Using the cannery will provide growers with another interface in distributing fresh local food to area schools, restaurants and other larger-scale venues, which will require logistics, storage and transfer. “It will give us a home to grow in,” said DeFelice.
DeFelice, a retired Army veteran came to Hernando County five years ago. He and his wife love the lifestyle, yet he speaks modestly of his talent for farming. “People ask me what I grow, I tell them we plant everything, and then … well…I don’t know about a full crop.”
HGA’s mission to provide fresh local food to everyone includes low-income seniors and those receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The senior program hinges on program management in partnership with the state, and failed in the past. Under DeFelice’s direction, more farms have signed to be part of the program, which is expected to make a comeback next year.
The HGA also provides SNAP recipients with “Fresh Access Bucks,” which doubles the amount that can be purchased when buying produce from local growers.
More information and event calendar: www.hernandogrowers.org