Villages Grown’s produce now for sale at Publix

Erika Romero, with The Villages Grown, harvests microgreens that will be sold at Publix. The farm-to-table initiative will distribute three to four cases of vegetables, herbs and microgreens every week to each of Publix’s stores in The Villages.

Soon, Villagers won’t have to travel far to buy locally grown, nutrient-dense produce. Vegetables, herbs and microgreens produced by The Villages Grown, the farm-to-table initiative of The Villages, are now at Publix. Following a successful beta test at the Colony Plaza supermarket, The Villages Grown expanded distribution to nearly all Publix supermarkets in The Villages starting this week. Launches were scheduled for Tuesday at Southern Trace Plaza and Spanish Plaines Shopping Center; Wednesday at Mulberry Grove Plaza and La Plaza Grande; and Friday at Magnolia Plaza, said Jennifer Waxman, The Villages Grown’s executive director.

She expects to go live at Publix’s Grand Traverse Plaza and Lake Deaton Plaza supermarkets in August.

“I think they’re a trusted source in The Villages,” she said. “And we don’t have a lot of access points except for our small store (in Brownwood town center) and our mobile market. This will give us accessibility to all Villagers in all Villages.”

Bigger Harvests

The Villages Grown expanded production at its 45-acre farm at the southwest corner of State Road 44 and Morse Boulevard in order to meet the demand they expect from their presence at Publix, said Rebecca Reis-Miller, The Villages Grown’s vice president of operations.

Farmers are now growing 750 more heads of lettuce and about 75 to 100 more pounds of microgreens, she said.

“When I plan for production, I try to go big,” Reis-Miller said.

The Villages Grown will distribute three to four cases of vegetables, herbs and microgreens every week to each of Publix’s stores in The Villages, she said.

On Monday, staff was busy packing the first batches of produce that the stores will receive.

While Publix strives to work with local farms as much as possible, a key barrier to getting their products in the supply chain is consistency so they can expect the same quality and quantity from a given product every time they purchase it, said Adam Wright, The Villages Grown’s director of operations.

But it’s possible to achieve that consistency in controlled environment agriculture operations like The Villages Grown, he said.

Testing at Colony

Waxman said Publix reached out to her last year about distributing to its supermarkets.

“They have a very robust commitment to local now, and so when they found out we were going operational they reached out to see how we could work together,” she said.

The Villages Grown launched a beta test of its display at the Colony Plaza Publix in April.

They’re currently selling three different types of microgreens — broccoli, arugula and rainbow. Customers may also find lettuce, cilantro, parsley, dill and chives.

Sales exceeded the supermarket chain’s expectations, Wright said.

“It shows us there’s going to be a significant demand at the other locations,” he said.

Boosting Accessibility

That demand is particularly strong in the northern Villages, where accessibility to The Villages Grown’s products often required travel to its retail store in Brownwood town center.

Access became more limited after The Villages Grown’s Mobile Market, an Airstream trailer outfitted to travel to different parts of The Villages to sell produce directly to residents, was taken off the road for repairs.

Going operational at Publix will bring their products closer to northern residents, Waxman said.

Beyond the Brownwood retail store, which typically attracts 50 unique customers a day, and the Mobile Market, which attracts 100 customers a day when it’s operational, products are also available at smaller scale retailers like Brown and Brown’s Country Market in Oxford and Earth Origins in Ocala.

But distributing to Publix expands the reach to more potential customers than ever before, Waxman said.

“And not just Villagers go to the Publixes within The Villages,” she said. “We’re capturing a new user market.”

Excitement for Launch

Villagers who prepare foods with The Villages Grown’s products said they’re looking forward to buying their

vegetables and microgreens from Publix.

Deborah Waddell, a retired environmental scientist who leads the Whole Food Plant Based Potluck group, regularly purchases The Villages Grown’s products and believes in its food as medicine philosophy.

Buying those products at Publix will be more convenient for many shoppers, she said.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Waddell, of the Village of Pinellas. “I’ve been teaching whole food plant based and I grow my food hydroponically at home, so I’m all for it.”

Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.