I live at the beach. The majority of the population in Florida lives within 5 miles or so of the beach. The beach is great; it’s wonderful to have access to it year-round, especially this time of year when it’s relatively empty. But there’s another part of Florida that gets referred to sometimes as “the real Florida.” I go there every Saturday, when I drive out to the CSA farm.
I head out of town on State Road 40, which runs between Ormond Beach and Ocala. It takes about 12 miles to get past the sprawl of Ormond Beach. At the outer edges of town, you can begin to see areas that were burned in the massive firestorm of 1998, and a few areas that were burned more recently by smaller fires. The stages of regrowth of the forests are interesting. From that point, there’s not much along the road for a while – a few horse farms and some land for sale.
The road is two lanes, but it’s wide and easy to drive. If you like driving in the country, it’s very enjoyable. On Saturday afternoon, traffic isn’t a problem.
The next big feature is the Volusia Speedway, at Barberville. It’s short-track auto racing, and I believe they still have a dirt track there. Real racin’, some folks would say. Pretty soon after that is the intersection with U.S. Route 17. On the left is a lady who sells peanuts from her pickup truck. You can get them either roasted or boiled. Her family’s peanut farm is just behind her stand. The boiled peanuts are the best I’ve ever had. If you’ve never had fresh, hot boiled peanuts, you have really missed something.
To get to the farm, I turn right onto U.S. 17 North. U.S. 17 runs up through the country to Jacksonville, then becomes the main coastal highway through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. That’s a beautiful drive too, but that’s for another day.
The first town you go through is Pierson – The Fern Capital of the World. Really. Most of the fern that you see with bouquets from flower shops all over the world comes from in and around Pierson. They’re grown under cover, to protect them from the sun and freezing. The cover looks like big black tents, with flat tops, made from something like the weed-control fabric that I’ve used under mulch in my garden. A lot of the fern is near maturity now, because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. A big freeze now can really wreak havoc on the fern farming economy.
There’s a big Hispanic population in this part of the county, mostly Mexican. They move to the area to cut fern. All along the sides of the road are stores and churches with signs in Spanish. There are several little restaurants, too, with authentic Mexican food – not what you get at Chili’s.
At one point, on the left, is a barbecue stand. I haven’t stopped yet, but I’ve heard that it’s great, and a huge serving for not much money. There’s a fruit and vegetable stand on the right that usually has some nice-looking tomatoes, and a little farther up, a “self-service” citrus stand, where the proprietors trust that you’ll pay for what you get. Amazing, and nice to see.
At one point, on the right there’s a small airfield where you can take glider rides. There always seems to be some action around there – of course there would be, on gorgeous Saturday afternoons.
The next little town is Seville. It’s the last town in Volusia County, before the road crosses into Putnam County. Last summer our school board closed four elementary schools, and one of them was Seville’s. I don’t know what they plan to do with the building; it looks unused right now.
Once you get into Putnam County, Crescent City is not far. Crescent City is The Bass Capital of the World, or so they say. Bass as in fish, not the musical instrument. There are a number of big lakes up there, and they’re probably full of bass. There’s even a trailer park named the Bass Capital Mobile Park, or something like that. There are probably other areas of the country with great bass fishing, so I’m not sure how Crescent City has laid claim to its title, but it sounds good to me.
Once I get into Crescent City, I turn west again, on County Road 308. It goes past the elementary school and through a residential neighborhood of old-style Florida houses that are built up a couple of feet off the ground, with a crawl space underneath. Then the road gets twisty, passes a big lake, and gets into farmland. Pretty soon, I get to the landfill on the left and a magnolia tree nursery on the right, and then I’m at my farm. I get my box, talk to Roger and Carol for a minute, pet the cat and dogs, and head home – back to “unreal” Florida.
It’s less than 50 miles from my house, but it might as well be in another state. It couldn’t be more different from the coastal areas. It’s known as the real Florida because it’s changed much less than the coastal areas have over the last 50 years, and it’s a really nice place to visit. I don’t know if I’d like to live there, but the folks that are there seem to enjoy it.
My description doesn’t do it justice.