In a rural town located right outside of coastal Pensacola is a historic 47 acre farm growing the areas only certified organic produce. This farm gives a new and modern twist to how the local residents enjoy farm to table foods.
Meet the Farmers
Tucked away in the sleepy town of Wallnut Hill, Florida, Maeday Farm is busy envisioning and creating some of the most beautiful produce in the Pensacola region. With only 2,700 people, this unincorporated small town has a sense of home as you drive by soy and cornfields and people warmly wave. Steven and Meredith Elliott, a young and newlywed couple set their sights on a new vision and recreating the way we look at our food industry, starting with small-town America.
Steven and Meredith devoted themselves to their corporate careers in real estate investment. After meeting in New Jersey while working on a project, they returned to Austin to continue climbing the corporate ladder. In 2013 Steven began feeling tired from the demands of work, so he took a job for a gardening center. Here he felt his love of the outdoors and the food system grow.
After a brief break from his marketing job, he returned, but the seed was already planted. “All throughout this time we started to question where our food came from. We were growing our food in our backyard in Austin, and I kind of was out of place, I started another job, and it was just a bad experience. We kind of looked at each other and said ‘this is the time that we start this plan’, so that’s when I really quite and started to work on farms in Austin” Steven reminisced.
Steven worked on three different farms in Austin, all giving him diverse experiences and understanding. Between an aquaponic farm, an education-based farm, and a larger operation farm with a 300 person CSA, Steven developed his own vision.
Meredith, still working for the same company, was ready for the next step. She and Steven began to look for a farm in the south that met their criteria. They wanted a place where organic farming was still a new yet welcomed idea. Florida was not a state they had considered, but when the perfect 47-acre property came into sight, they knew they found the one. Upon touring the farm and meeting the property manager, an excited Great Pyrenees named Shaggy, Meredith felt right at home. They headed to the Palafox Market and felt certain that Pensacola was their new landing.
Celebrating their first year on the farm on October 1, 2019, it’s hard to believe everything they have accomplished. Being the first certified organic farm in the Pensacola greater region required hard work and planning. A tractor was bought within a week of moving in and they began tilling to start a cover crop. “The farm had been abandoned for a year, so it was really a struggle to try to get it tamed and start doing projects. The first three months we were here was just projects, building a greenhouse, building a walk-in, buying a tractor…” Meredith said, reflecting on the start of their farm.
There have been challenges along the way to getting certified organic. “Managing the pests, which the farms I worked on in Austin, there weren’t a lot of pests, but here, it’s just like, what is that bug, why did it eat all my okra?! “ Steven laughed. Pests have been just one of the issues they have tackled. “I think one of the common misconceptions is that organic just means no-spray” Meredith said. “It’s so much more than that, our certification requires that we care for our soil, that we practice environmentally healthy farming methods like cover cropping and crop rotation, that we have the proper buffer zones.”
Vegetarian and Selectatarian
Meredith brings a breath of fresh air to her farming vision. Having maintained a vegetarian diet since she was 20, she views farming as beneficial to not only the community but to animals alike. After raising a few chickens and bees in her backyard with Steven in Austin, she knew she wanted to continue to do so in Florida. Over the last year, she has provided animals a soft landing to live out their days. She takes in animals from many different and usually unfortunate circumstances, only to provide them with love and stability. She dreams of the day she can expand her farm into an animal rescue.
When asked of Steven if he is also a vegetarian, he laughed and called himself a “selectatrian.” He eats meat, but only locally sourced, well cared for animals. Him and Meredith are very against factory-farmed animals, acknowledging that we as humans need to do better for other living species. Animals are important for agriculture, especially organic. They provide valuable, nutrient and nitrogen dense manuer that is great for the soil.
The More the Merrier
Although Steven and Meredith have only been here for four season changes, they continue to expand their vision and spread their passion. They hope to inspire other young farmers to start organic farming. “We would love to provide that opportunity that Steven got to younger farmers. He was so fortunate to work under these talented older farmers who invested in him and helped him to gain the knowledge that he needed to step out on his own. We would love to do that for someone else” Meredith said.
While encouraging other farmers to become certified organic, they also encourage local restaurants to source from farms. Meredith explains “because if they start buying into what we’re doing and start developing seasonal menus that are truly highlighting what the area growers are growing at that time, I think it’s huge, chefs can play a really big role in the transformation.”
“There is a sense of something growing here and that’s really exciting,” Steven said. There is a willingness from consumers and chefs to make the transition from farm to table meals. Meredith encourages people to let their favorite restaurants know they would like to see seasonal and local produce grace their menus.
The Honey House
Just when you think Maeday Farm has it all, it gets even better! Situated in the middle of the property is the Honey House. This 2 bedroom 1 bathroom house is on AirBNB, providing a perfect space for a quiet getaway. Want to see the stars without light pollution? Want to get your hands dirty and help with farm chores, or with the animals? Meredith and Steven allow their guests to be as involved or disconnected as they choose. The rustic, modern and minimalistic decor of the Honey House is inviting and relaxing. With a glass of iced tea in one hand, you can enjoy the noises of nature and decompress.
Meredith and Steven truly enjoy the nature of the farm. “Engaging with the customers, not just the market, but the people who come to stay with us on the farm and really getting to see things through their eyes. Introducing them to the world of organic food and local growing and seasonal eating has been really rewarding” said Meredith.
When you buy from Maeday Farm, you are not only supporting a young couple but their passion for farming and educating. With one year down, and many more to go, the city of Pensacola has embraced them and their historic place as the regions first certified organic farm. You can find Maeday Farm at the Palafox Market every Saturday with over 50 delicious varieties of organic fruit and vegetables. From their farm to your table, cheers!