RIVERVIEW – Two years ago, Riverview resident Renee Watley said she'd never seen a tomato growing on the vine and she didn't have a clue about how to cook kale, arugula or chard. But a trip to her local grocery store changed all that.
“I was frustrated with the quality of produce offered at the grocery stores,” said the 29-year-old Apollo Beach native.
Concerned about the health and environmental impacts of pesticides, she sought out organic fruits and vegetables but found few choices available.
“So I began looking for local farmers who were growing organic produce,” she said. “When I found some and saw how hard they worked, I wanted to help promote and market their produce as well as make it more convenient for people to buy it.”
That desire marked the beginning of A Simpler Place in Time, a web-based certified organic produce delivery service.
Watley offers a variety of home-grown, organic seasonal produce supplied by local farmers and some organic produce, such as apples and pears, from other regions of the country. Customers simply peruse her website, choose the produce they wish to buy, and then pay online through PayPal. Watley delivers the order right to her customers for a flat fee of $7.
Or they can pick up their orders at her produce stand at 9905 Carr Road, Riverview. The produce stand is open Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the stand is also open to the general public.
Since starting her business in 2012, Watley said she's developed a steady clientele throughout South Shore who want to support local growers and consume pesticide-free produce.
“I just believe it's so important to support local farmers,” she said. “And this makes it so much easier to get access to their produce. These farmers grow food the way nature intended, with no synthetic chemicals or preservatives.”
Among the farmers who supply her with produce is Susan Bishop, owner of My Mother's Garden in Wimauma.
“Susan has been my mentor,” said Watley. “She's taught me so much. I had no idea before of the amount of time and labor that goes into growing produce and the minimal amount of money the farmer gets. It's one of the most humbling things you can imagine.”
Watley also obtains produce from several organic farms in Ellenton, strawberries from Sunset Ranch in Dover and blueberries from Moody Blues Farm in Lithia.
She's even tried growing some of her own vegetables.
In addition to expanding her knowledge of produce, Watley has educated herself about the benefits of eating antibiotic-free meats.
“I was disgusted at the treatment of animals raised for commercial food,” she said. “So I began looking into farms where the animals weren't confined or pumped with hormones.”
As a result, she added organic beef, pork and poultry along with eggs, butter and milk to her list of website offerings. Customers also will find a variety of fresh herbs, organic pasta, beans, jams and jellies, spices, oils and vinegars, bread, flour and grains.
Although organic produce tends to cost more because it requires certification and more labor, Watley believes it's worth the extra money.
“I feel the customer is definitely getting value in terms of taste and health benefits,” she said. “And a portion of the additional cost is offset by the fact that we can get produce locally and aren't paying transportation costs.”
For customers who are unfamiliar with some of the types of produce grown locally, Watley provides nutritional information as well as tips for preparing them and recipes on her website and in a newsletter.
“This has definitely become a passion of mine,” she said.
To use A Simpler Place in Time's online market, customers can either register or order produce as a guest. The online market opens for orders every Sunday and the cut-off is 9 p.m. Monday to have the produce delivered the following Friday between 4 and 8 a.m. Customers also can pick up their orders on Wednesdays at the produce stand on Carr Road.
The produce offered changes each week due to seasonal availability.
“It can be unpredictable sometimes,” she said. “We may offer a vegetable only to discover the farmer's crop didn't come in as planned. In that case, we return the customer's money. We also offer refunds if the produce isn't to the customer's liking.”
For more information, email [email protected] or call (813) 383-4064.
D'Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]