Keepin’ It Fresh

OK, so it’s been a while since you set those goals to exercise and eat healthier.
If you’ve hit the fast food drive-thru lately or fed the family frozen pizza for dinner again this week, take heart. The year is young. There’s still plenty of time to make good on those intentions of eating better.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 percent of what is spent each year on health care goes to treating preventable chronic diseases, most of which are diet-related. The CDC also notes that over 72 million people—that’s more than one-third of adults in the United States—are obese, along with 16 percent of American children. Even more disturbing is the research showing that if current trends continue, half the people in this country will be obese by 2030.

Americans spend over $190 billion on fast food each year. Not bad considering fast food chains only spend about $4.2 billion on advertising annually. And those burgers, fries and sodas they’re selling? Their average size has more than tripled since the 1970s.

“In this country we don’t tend to value food. We’ve come to think we’re entitled to things cheap and easy, but you see the health of people who eat cheap processed food,” observes Jeri Baldwin, founder of Crone’s Cradle Conserve, a 756-acre ecological preserve and education center located in northern Marion County. “We preach healthy eating, so we believe in eating fresh produce year-round, but it’s hard to grow here in the heat of summer, so we researched plants that would tolerate it. This led us to the east, as in Asia, and introduced us to a host of heat-tolerant produce, which we now offer—items like bok choy, Malabar spinach, red noodle beans, shishito peppers and greens like mizuna and tat soi.”

It’s time to dust off those resolutions to eat healthy, starting this week. It’s not as hard as you think. Eating at least five servings of vegetables and fruits each day can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 30 percent. It can also help you lose pounds and power up your immune system.

For optimum nutritional value, choose locally grown fruits and veggies that are freshly harvested at their peak. Even better, pick them yourself.

In our area, people have been buying fresh produce and herbs at Crones’ Cradle Conserve for nearly 20 years. The farm uses a 100 percent organic approach, which isn’t the case with all U-pick and fresh produce operations. (If buying organic is important to you, be sure to ask about this.)

“We have about three acres planted in vegetables and herbs; organic farming can be done very intensively in a small area,” explains Baldwin, noting that they planted their first organic garden in 1987. “We use no chemicals during the entire process. No herbicides, pesticides or insecticides. It’s an ongoing battle to fight pests, and our No. 1 approach is manually exterminating the bugs. We also bring in ladybugs to deal with aphids, which are one of the most challenging pests to fight. For fertilizer, we use fish emulsion and manure. We’ve tried everything from elephant manure to chicken, rabbit, goat and cow manure and have found cow manure to be the best and most nutritious for the soil. We always say we grow soil, not vegetables, because if soil is healthy and full of earthworms to aerate it and add castings, then most anything will grow.”

Local & Fresh!

Depending on where you go, you may be able to pick your own produce or choose from crops that farm hands have just harvested. Either way, it’s going to be incredibly fresh. Kids love the chance to pick their own, and it’s an excellent way to encourage them to eat something besides chicken nuggets and PB&J sandwiches.

Make it a “family field trip” and be prepared. Call before you go to confirm hours of operation and to be sure what’s available. Bring your own containers (some farms provide them, others don’t). Dress comfortably, but no sandals. Wear a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent. Most farms will have basic rules posted. Remember, you are on someone’s private property, so a little courtesy goes a long way.

There are many farm stands, U-pick operations and organic farms in our area. Here are just a few to get you started. You can find more at and (type “U-pick farms” into the search bar).


B&G Blueberries

10203 NE 100th St., Fort McCoy

(352) 236-4410

Products: Blueberries, U-pick and already picked, concessions/refreshment stand, porta-potties, picnic area

High Springs Orchard

10804 NW State Rd. 45, High Springs

(352) 222-1343

May through November, open by appointment only

Products: Peaches, Asian pears, blueberries, figs, chestnuts, persimmons, muscadine grapes


The Pickin’ Patch

11100 Rolling Hills Rd., Dunnellon

(352) 533-4344 or

Late September through October

Products: Pumpkins


Red, White and Blues Farm

3250 NE 140th Ave., Williston

(352) 529-0594

April through mid-June, Thursday through Sunday, 8am through 4pm

Products: Five different berries, U-pick and prepackaged available, farm store and picnic area with clean restrooms





The Wagon Farm

14201 SW 16 Place, Ocala

(352) 489-1441

Thursday through Saturday from 7am until 12pm

Products: Blueberries (available in May through early summer), persimmons (late September through November), chestnuts (October and November)


Perfectly Picked

Follow these picking and storage tips to make your goodies last:


Blackberries are best picked early in the day.

Pick only berries that are soft and easy to remove.

Store in refrigerator for two to three days.

If freezing, wash and pat dry. First, freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then transfer to freezer bag once frozen.



Choose berries that are uniform in color. A reddish ring where fruit attaches to stem means it’s not ripe yet.

Pick only berries that easily come loose from the stem. Roll with your thumb into your palm.

Don’t wash until ready to eat or use, but refrigerate berries as soon as possible after picking.

Store in refrigerator for one to two weeks.

If freezing, wash first and pat dry. Freeze in a single layer on cookie sheet, and then transfer to freezer bag once frozen.



Flavor is best when allowed to ripen on the tree.

Pick peaches when color changes from green to yellow.

Ripe fruit should be easy to remove from branch.

Store in a refrigerator (32°F).



Can be picked early and allowed to ripen indoors at temps of 60°F to 70°F.

Pick pears when color changes from green to yellow.

Ripe fruit should be easy to remove from branch.

Store pears in refrigerator to keep them fresh.



Best picked in early morning.

Keep stem attached when picking by pinching it off with your fingers.

Avoid berries that are only half-red, as their flavor hasn’t fully developed yet.

Don’t wash until ready to eat or use.

Store in refrigerator for one to three days.

If you freeze them, wash and remove caps first.


Going the CSA Route

So, you want to eat healthy, but you really don’t have time to hit the farmers market or visit a farm where you can pick your own produce. Sounds like you’re the perfect candidate for joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) alliance.

A CSA is a group of members coming together to support a local farmer, who in turn, produces food for them. The CSA movement has taken off across the country since the mid-1980s. Members (also known as subscribers) pay a fee, typically by the season, and then a weekly amount for their box or basket of produce, which they pick up, or, if offered, have delivered.

“I like to cook, and I’m always looking for good fresh veggies in season,” says Janet Pepin, a member of the Farm to Fare CSA at Crones’ Cradle Conserve. “I get to be very inventive because you never know what’s going to be in the basket. I’ll often make a frittata or egg salad from the fresh eggs. Anyone who’s interested in good, healthy eating needs to be a CSA member.”

“We’ve been doing our CSA for nearly 20 years and can handle up to 50 shares/families. We also provide for a number of restaurants and caterers,” says Baldwin.

Their Farm to Fare membership is $50 for a 13-week season, and each week’s basket is $25. There are typically five to six vegetables, fresh herbs and six to 12 eggs, along with two recipes that include items in the basket. A weekly newsletter is included and offers additional information about the produce. Baskets can be picked up at the farm, and there are specific days when they can be picked up in Ocala and Gainesville.

If you go to Crones’ Cradle Conserve, be sure to stop in at their Country Store (open daily 9am-3pm) where you’ll find honey, jams, jellies, chutneys, farm-baked breads and more produce and herbs. They also offer locally raised, grass-fed beef and locally made goat cheese and even goat cheese cheesecake (sweet, creamy, delicious, and no, it doesn’t taste like goat cheese!).

To find more CSAs in North Central Florida, visit and type “CSA” into the search bar.


Get Cooking!

Now that you’ve rounded up the freshest produce you can find, turn it into something delicious!


Spicy Thai Salad with Blood Oranges › Serves 4-6



¼cup grapeseed oil (or any flavorless oil)

¼cup lime juice

Zest of one lime

4tbsp Colman’s Prepared Mustard

4tbsp rice vinegar

3tbsp soy sauce

3tbsp sugar

3tbsp fish sauce

1tbsp water

1fresh Thai chili, finely sliced (or to taste)



1head romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-size pieces

1bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

½cup chopped mint

½cup chopped Thai basil

3scallions finely chopped

3carrots, cut into thin matchsticks

1red bell pepper, cut into thin matchsticks

2Persian or English cucumbers, cut into thin matchsticks 

2blood oranges 


Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. When adding the Thai chili, start with a small amount if you are not familiar and add more depending on how spicy you want the dressing. They are extremely spicy, especially the rib and the seeds. The dressing will get spicier with time, so make the dressing in advance. You can modify the taste if needed. (Note: Be careful not to touch your eyes after handling the chopped chili.) › Using a sharp knife, peel citrus peel and all the white pith so you can only see the flesh. Working over a small bowl, cut in between each membrane to cut out each citrus section. Squeeze remaining membrane. Pour orange juice into the dressing, and reserve the blood orange segments. (If blood oranges are out of season, you can try any other orange or even sliced strawberries.) › Toss all salad ingredients in a serving platter, and drizzle with the dressing just before serving. Sprinkle with additional herbs and a fresh squeeze of lime juice. Dressing will keep in refrigerator for up to a week.

Recipe & photo courtesy Colman’s Mustard.


Oven-Made French Fries

4 1/2cups organic potatoes

½cup GAEA Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Coarse salt

Fresh pepper

1tspsmoked paprika 


Preheat the oven to 450°F. › Scrub potatoes clean, and cut them into slices approximately 1/2-inch thick. Place slices in a bowl filled with water, and leave them for approximately 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Top them off with GAEA Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil. › Roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Season with paprika. Reduce the temperature to 400°F, and bake for 10 more minutes or until they get a nice golden color. Serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy GAEA Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Find more recipes at

Green Tomato Stew

2very large green tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2cups coconut milk

1tsp cumin seeds

1tsp mustard seeds

15curry leaves

2green chilies (such as Serrano), slit down middle

1heaping tsp coriander powder

1/2tsp turmeric

1tsp sugar

1tsp olive oil (such as Gaea)


Heat oil in saucepan. Add cumin and mustard seeds; when they sputter, add curry leaves and green chilies. Sauté for a few seconds, and then add green tomatoes. › Add coriander powder, turmeric, sugar and stir together. › Add a few tablespoons of water, and when mixture boils, put a lid on saucepan and cook over medium-high heat about five minutes or until tomatoes are soft and pulpy. › Add half the coconut milk, and bring to a boil. › Add salt to taste, and let the tomatoes cook another minute or two. › Add remaining coconut milk, stir and heat until warmed through, but not boiling. › Remove from heat, and serve.

Recipe courtesy Crones’ Cradle Conserve.


Oven-Baked Sweet Plantains

4very ripe plantains (when skin is yellow with black spots, they’re perfect!)

Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 450°F. › Coat a nonstick cookie sheet with cooking spray. › Cut ends off plantains, and peel. Cut each plantain on the diagonal into half-inch slices. Arrange in single layer on cookie sheet, and coat tops with cooking spray. › Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until plantains are golden brown and very tender.

Recipe courtesy Crones’ Cradle Conserve.


Natural Foods Gala at Crone’s Cradle Conserve

(April 16)


Crone’s Cradle Conserve hosts a Natural Foods Gala and Sustainability Festival in spring and fall. You’re just in time for the spring event, which takes place Saturday, April 16, from 10am to 3pm. Guest chefs and farmer chefs create a tempting variety of dishes featuring all fresh, organic ingredients. Admission is just $1 per person, and sample tickets are $2 each, which allows you to enjoy a sample size serving (about 3 ounces) of the various dishes.


Crone’s Cradle Conserve

6411 NE 217 Place, Citra

(352) 595-3377

Posted in Marion Features

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