By Cindy Jo Ayers
Gilchrist County has been home to farms since this part of Florida was settled. Chase Rossi and Jennifer Whitney became local farmers back in August of 2017 when they purchased 15 1/2 acres off County Road 232 in the eastern part of the county.
They moved from Alachua County where they had both lived for a number of years. Chase was a chef at The Top restaurant having worked his way up the ladder in restaurant kitchens since starting his culinary career some 18 years ago. He grew up in the Dunnellon area where he had always enjoyed fishing.
Jennifer Whitney is a nurse with the VA Hospital in Gainesville. She grew up in Tallahassee and came to the area to attend the University of Florida. They met when they were both working in the same restaurant. Their farm is a family operation with 11 year old son Jackson helping out with the feeding and care of the livestock. Baby son Emery, who is only nine months old, is a little too young too be a farm hand, but he really enjoys being outside and seeing the farm animals.
Chase said he became interested in the Farm to Table movement and grass fed livestock when he was still a chef. Once he cooked with and tasted pasture raised meat he became very interested in the process of raising livestock.
Jennifer, who is a nurse by profession, said “I do believe that good nutrition is equal to preventative health care. It is an investment in current wellness and future health. After working with an aging population I have seen the destructive effects of poor eating. Diabetes and cardiovascular problems are only a few ways that our bodies react to poor diet. Research now shows that our diet can also affect our mood! Eating high quality meats, raised humanely and without any added hormones, anti-biotics, or genetically modified ingredients is a great foundation for a nutrient dense meal.” It was easy for her to support the life style change when their family moved from the city to a farm in rural Gilchrist County. They hope to become a part of the community as time passes. Jackson will be entering school in Gilchrist County this school term.
Chase said Dave and Ginger Shield of Pastured Life Farm in O’Brien, Florida were friends and mentors. The Shields helped him learn about raising livestock sustainably while he worked with them on their farm.
At this time the family is raising about a 150 meat chickens and 100 young future laying hens in several chicken tractors at Southland Grass Farm. Chicken tractors are chicken pens that are made to be pulled from one location to another on a grass pasture several times a day. The flock constantly has fresh vegetation to forage in. Chickens like to eat the tender tips of grass, seeds and weeds, and they especially relish bugs. As each tractor is moved around, the chickens leave their manure behind and it fertilizes the pasture grass.
The farm also has a small herd of Berkshire and Hereford hogs. Chase makes pan sausage, Chorizo, bacon and several more pork products. They also sell whole hogs and half hogs to the public.
Their pork is also pasture raised and supplemented by non-gmo grain. Chase said he likes to process the hogs when they have a hanging weight of about 250 pounds and the meat chickens when they reach around three pounds.
Future plans for the farm include maybe one day having their own farm stand at Southland Grass Farm or maybe even having a butcher shop in the area. They hope to expand their acreage and begin raising grass fed beef cattle in the future.
At this time Southland Grass Farm sells their processed frozen chicken and pork at the Alachua County Farmers Market on 441 at 5920 NW 13th Street in Gainesville on Saturday morning. On Wednesdays you can find their products at Union Street Farmers Market which is located at 111 E. University Avenue in the heart of Gainesville. Union Street Market opens at 4 p.m. If you wish to purchase their products locally just contact Chase or Jennifer by emailing them at Southlandgrassfarm@gmail.com.
Southland Grass Farm providing pasture raised poultry and pork
By Cindy Jo Ayers