History Repeats Itself with Farm-Fresh Focus

St. Augustine, the very city that is renowned for its role in sowing the fields of America’s rich history, also planted the seeds many years ago for thriving local farmers markets and farm-to-table establishments.
Thomas Graham, author and professor emeritus of history at Flagler College, shares about this unique part of St. Augustine’s history, noting that the public market in downtown St. Augustine was built in the 1820s, and it was reminiscent of a present-day farmers market. Located in the heart of downtown, St. Augustine in the Plaza de la Constitución, the public market, which still stands today, was where local farmers would bring their fruits and vegetables to sell to those who frequented the square. Later, the market moved and set up shop where the Columbia Restaurant now stands, on the corner of St. George Street and Hypolita Street.
“It’s not too much different from the farmers markets you have today at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and St. Johns County Ocean Pier,” said Graham.
It’s no surprise that when Henry Flagler, an industrialist who later became founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, came to town, his influence greatly impacted the existing local farming scene.
Graham noted that Flagler not only had a need to supply the kitchens of his St. Augustine hotels--Hotel Ponce de Leon, Hotel Alcazar and Hotel Cordova--with local produce to be served to guests, but Flagler also wanted to encourage people to settle in Florida, purchase farmland and use his railroad to ship what was grown in Florida up north. This concept was what propelled the area west of St. Augustine to become a farming area that supported St. Augustine’s growth, visitors and residents. Therefore, it really wasn’t until the Flagler Era that commercial farms were established in Hastings and Elkton. 
Graham also mentioned that while it is likely the produce needed to supply Flagler’s hotels was mainly grown and provided by local farmers, Flagler did establish his own farm in Hastings. The farm was managed by Thomas Horace Hastings, a distant relative of Flagler, who was not one in the same as Thomas Hastings, the architect of Flagler’s hotels. The purpose of Flagler’s farm was to determine what crops grew best in the area to appeal to those thinking about settling in the area to establish a successful living by farming.
The farming industry in Hastings and other surrounding areas, as well as throughout Florida and the southeast, has expanded since Flagler’s time, making local produce readily available in St. Johns County.
Fresh, local produce has never been easier to consume and enjoy in the nation’s oldest city. Whether it is at farmers markets, local businesses or restaurants, local produce can be found and enjoyed daily here. So, grab a map and reusable grocery bags for a trek across the area’s farm-fresh community.