BARTOW, Fla. — A woman in Polk County is helping connect people across the state with local farms in their area.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida Farm Finder is a Facebook group that connects people with local farms in the state

  • One of its users, S&S Micro Farm, says they've been able to extend their reach, in part, because of Florida Farm Finder

  • As a result of using the group, farms have been able to save money on marketing and let people know of the different events they have going on

It’s all on a Facebook group called Florida Farm Finder, and farmers say the page has brought tons of business to them, saving them loads of money in marketing.

Sam Longster’s farm, S&S Micro Farm in Bartow, has rows of fresh blueberries with many of them ripe for the picking.

“I like the sort of big fat round ones. The dark blue makes some really sweet,” Longster said. “I just really, really enjoy this time of the season. Just being out here and meeting people.”

But when she and her husband, Scott, first bought this farm, this time of year wasn’t always kind.

They purchased the land in August 2019 and blueberries bloom in February and March.

So, right as they were about to sell their berries in 2020, things took a turn.

“The first week of us realizing we were ready to go, and we had all these blueberries, the whole planet shut down,” Longster said.

Rather than sticking with wholesale markets, she and Scott converted the farm to a “u-pick” model, where people can come to the farm in person to pick their own berries.

“We really had to pivot quickly or else we were going to go broke,” Longster said.

But getting the message out to the public wasn’t easy until Jillian Childs came into the picture.

“It just kind of clicked that there was this huge disconnect,” Childs said.

According to Childs, she saw during the height of the pandemic in 2020 that fresh produce was tough to come by, especially since millions of pounds of things like blueberries are imported from other countries, like Peru.

So, she started Florida Farm Finder to let people know about local farms in the state where they can pick their own fruits and vegetables.

“At that time,” Childs said, “I was like, ‘yeah, this is great for emergencies.’ And we thought, you know, it would die down and slow down, but it never really did.”

Four years later, they have 70,000 members and 500 farmers regularly participating on the page, including Longster.

“We really wouldn’t have the confidence to do only, you know, commercial if it wasn’t for Jillian’s site,” Longster said.

Especially with inflation doubling the cost of fertilizer and diesel fuel, she said having thousands of people see the latest events and activities at S&S has been beneficial.

“Jillian really helped us connect with the public on that. So, she was a great help,” Longster said.

It’s a partnership that’s proven to be fruitful.