*all photos courtesy of e.m.marcus | photography
Name of business: Dragonfly Fields
Owners: Charles Bush & Shueh-Mei Pong
How long have you been in business?
We purchased the farm at the end of 2004 and started the garden in 2005. I split time in 2005 between working the garden and working out a year’s notice with leaving my 9 year position as a wine salesperson before going full time to gardening in 2006. Shueh-Mei continued working her full time job with the Viking Corporation until the fall of 2011 and now is spending more time running the farm.
How long have you lived in the area and where are you from?
I grew up in Washington County here in the panhandle of Florida and Shueh-Mei grew up in Taiwan. We both ended up coming to Grayton Beach in 1985 to work at the Paradise Cafe. It was there that we met and after a couple of margaritas on the front porch overlooking the beach, the rest was history. Several years later we opened our restaurant in Seaside and 5 years later moving it to Blue Mountain Beach before selling it.
How far do you travel for the market?
The farm is located 6 miles north of Defuniak Springs, so it is a good 45 minute drive to get to the market.
What products do you offer?
We grow 20 -25 different seasonal, naturally grown vegetables, tubers and alliums. All of our produce is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides and our fertility program is based on compost and natural fertilizers and amendments. We seem to be known for our arugula and salad mixes, but we have created a buzz from time to time with our tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, beets, watermelon radish and baby sweet potatoes. We occasionally source other produce from neighbors and local growers for items such as blueberries and sweet corn, but only if they have not used any pesticides on those items.
What makes your items special or unique?
Every grower or producer feels their items are special and unique, but there are several things that help us sell our produce. One would be that with our restaurant backgrounds coupled with Shueh-Mei’s culinary skills, we are able to talk to our customers about how to prepare certain items they may not be familiar with. Shueh-Mei’s background gives us an Asian perspective to preparing our produce. We, also, sell to several restaurants in the area and we have to meet the standards that their chefs are looking for. So from a culinary stand point, our produce not only has to look good, but has to taste as good as it looks. Another thing that helps us sell our produce, is that we have had the good fortune to travel to other regions of the country and abroad. Through our travels we have been able to dine in diverse restaurants and visit markets and farms. Our travels have shown us how to offer fresh, high quality and different produce items. We have, also, spent a good bit of time visiting other local farms and attending workshops to get a better understanding of how other farms operate. Finally, we have lived and worked in and around the hospitality trade in this area since 1985 and we feel like we have built a strong customer base from our previous customers and friends.
Is there anything new on the horizon? New products, seasonal items or specials?
We have just started opening up and working with a new garden space. With that, we hope to be able to offer our produce more continually and be able to attend the market on more of a regular basis. We have entertained the idea of growing enough beans to offer locally grown dry beans or grow certain corns that can be saved and ground into grits or cornmeal. Those are just ideas at the moment. Of course, every time we open up a seed catalog or trade magazine, there is always the bright idea to offer something new, but at the moment, with just the two of us working the farm, we just need to continue to improve on what we are currently doing.