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T.J. Bratcher has owned and managed Flagler County’s Bratcher Farms Produce for 17 years. PHOTOS BY SHANNA FORTIER
Palm Coast Thursday, Jun. 9, 2011 11 years ago

Bratcher farms Flagler

by: Mike Cavaliere Multimedia Director

West Flagler County’s Bratcher Farms Produce is feeding the area’s thriving agriculture industry and demand for ‘farm-fresh’ organic produce.

Keep to your normal routine and you’d never know it was out there.

Bratcher Farms Produce spreads out over West State Road 100 in lumpy shades of green and brown, a couple of barns crouching in the distance, out past the dirt roads and behind the tractors. In front, right out of a movie about early Florida, is a wooden one-room produce store stocked with crops reaped from its 300-acre backyard.

The first four years the shop was open — back when it was only a stand — Farm Manager T.J. Bratcher said it was run on the honor system, with only produce and a cash box. No attendant. No cameras. No register.

“We’re considered a small farm,” Bratcher said, tossing watermelons to a worker, Robbie Bertha, who stood in a truck bed, catching and piling the fruit onto hay for a customer. In Florida, “large” farms are considered any greater than 500 acres. In middle-America, that cutoff is about 10,000.

Bratcher stopped chucking melons and surveyed the fields. He farms all vegetable varieties, he said, but cabbage is his biggest export. Yearly, he can grow about 4.8 million heads — almost 25 million pounds — of cabbage, which is sold mostly for sauerkraut.

“Once (the crops) leave the farm,” he said, “we don’t know where (they) go.” Dealing most of his harvest to international brokers, the bulk of Bratcher’s loot heads up north, to Virginia, New York, Massachusetts and Canada.

Very little stays in Florida, he said, except for what he sells from a stand biweekly at the Government Services Building, and also what’s dealt to local middlemen, sucha as roadside dealers and Jan Pittard, of Front Porch Pickings, the organic produce delivery service.

Front Porch Pickings has been in business since August. The father-daughter company has grown every month since its opening, from humble 13-client beginnings to about 200 today, proving that the need for “farm-fresh” produce in Palm Coast is alive and expanding. Buying produce directly from farms and delivering it to residences, Front Porch partners with farmers from Bradenton all the way to Jacksonville.

“Everything’s farm-fresh,” Bratcher said. “That’s what everyone’s craving in this country. They want to know where (their food) comes from.”

The unfortunate thing, he continued, is that only 40% of food in the U.S. is locally grown. The rest is imported.

“If other counties stop supplying us, we’d starve,” he said. “There’s such a separation these days between farming and people. That part’s been lost.”

To combat the loss, Bratcher has been considering forming a 4-H-like farming club for kids. He’d slate out a half-acre of his land for teaching and training.

“Put ’em on the planter,” he said. “Let ’em plant.”

Bratcher is an eighth-generation Floridian. In the early 1900s, his family ran what was called The Bratcher House, in Bunnell, which had its own zip code, a porch for church services and a garden in front, where crops were sold. More recently, his father ran a fertilizer business.

T.J. has owned and run Bratcher Farms since 1993. Before that, it was a sod farm.

“(Commercial farming) is not easy work,” he said. “It’s not like raising a garden.”

But it’s worth it, he said.

“Knowing that I’m feeding people … that they’re enjoying it, and that they come back for more … that’s what we do. We make sure people aren’t hungry.”

Bratcher Farms Produce sets up a stand 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every first and third Friday, at the Government Services Building, in the back by the cafeteria.

Contact Mike Cavaliere at [email protected].

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