Jenny Franklin and her neighbor, Joan Levins, shell chestnuts, which are currently being harvested at Franklin’s organic orchard on State Road 45 near High Springs.HIGH SPRINGS – Jenny Franklin picked up a prickled ball in her gloved hand. She shoved a dull oyster knife into the seam, cracking it open. Gently, she peeled back the covering, revealing the dark, meaty chestnuts inside.
When Franklin moved to High Springs with her husband and daughter in 1996, she bought 28 acres of land.
She had never grown a fruit tree before.
Now, plants cover 10 acres of her land with blueberries, persimmons, apples and chestnuts. She and her husband, Chuck Franklin, are the owners of High Springs Orchard and Bakery, 10804 NW State Road 45.
“Ten acres is all I can do between me and him,” she said.
The Franklins run the organic orchard themselves with the help of their dog, Collins, and 11 beehives.
Right now, Jenny Franklin is harvesting chestnuts.
“Everybody thought the chestnut is a winter crop,” she said. “We have them now and people don’t know what to do. How much fun can you have roasting them in the Florida heat?”
She explained that chestnuts offer a great deal of variety. They can be boiled or baked. Chestnuts also offer the next best alternative to gluten for those with allergies, she said.
She generally uses chestnuts in cooking, making casseroles or stuffing.
“I grow what I like to eat,” Franklin said. “Being Oriental, most of my friends know about chestnuts, and like persimmons.”
She and her husband moved to the United States from Singapore. In Singapore, she said, people live on top of one another.
“Having land is very expensive,” she said. “I was lucky. My backyard was about the size of a dining room table.”
When they arrived in Gainesville, she was surprised by all the empty space.
“When I come here, I saw all this land and I thought, what a waste,” she said.
Franklin started bringing plants home without knowing anything about how to grow them in Florida weather. She learned the hard way.
“My neighbor would say to me, ‘Jenny, that’s going to die,’” she said. “‘Why?’ I would ask. So I learned.”
She got books about gardening and went to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services extension office. When looking for a 3- to 5- acre piece of land to grow a few fruit trees, Franklin stumbled upon the land now housing the orchard.
She turned her orchard into a business by offering “U-Pick” fruit during harvesting season. She said the international community created by UF makes up her largest customer base.
“Most of my friends are from customers who became good friends.”
One year ago, a friend suggested opening a bakery at the orchard. He is now the head baker.
The bakery makes pastries for all occasions, offering everything from custom-made wedding cakes to guava empanadas. All orders are placed at least a day in advance, as the bakery does not hold goods every day.
“There are not a lot of people wandering through here,” she said.
She reaches the larger Alachua County community by bringing baked goods and produce to the Gainesville Union Street Farmers Market every Wednesday. She also does tours for local children and UF students, teaching them about organic farming.
All of her produce is organic because she does not want to eat pesticides, she said. She explained that the porous Florida sand holds any pesticides that run off the fruits during rainstorms.
“My purpose in going organic is for myself,” she said “I eat my fruits right off the plant. I drink water straight from my well.”
Starting with this personal mission, Franklin is now trying to break into the bigger produce distribution companies. She and another grower just sold 500 pounds of chestnuts to a wholesale distributor.
“What happens if there is a bumper crop and none of my customers are here? I have to eat them all,” she said.
Next fall, Franklin is planning a chestnut festival to celebrate her most unexpected fall crop.
She attributes her success to the North Central Florida weather and a lot of hard work.“I like challenges,” she said. “The trees cooperate with me and listen to me.” Add a comment