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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fernandina in the Fall

  Jimmy Buffett has a song, "The Weather is here, Wish you were Beautiful!" that describes fall along the Northeast Florida coast.  Fernandina is at its finest, weatherwise.  Tourists are in shorter supply than most other times of the year and that does not bode well for the local shopkeepers and restauranteurs.  But, it is really great for the locals who have born the weight of traffic, lines and crowds around town.

  What a weekend it has been though!  Weather beyond expectations, especially following the short and weaker northeaster than was here just a week ago!  Cooling down but certainly still warm by anyone's standards this side of Hades.

  Had the opportunity to attend the Mighty Fighting Pirates football game Friday night.  They pulled off a wonderful victory against cross county rivals the Hilliard Flashes.  Early going didn't look too well but Dale Burford called it with a "we'll wear 'em down" prediction that proved true by the second quarter.  The coaching staff put together by Travis Hodge is performing well above most people's hopes so soon into his tenure.  They have put together a team of young men who have bought into the hard work pays off approach to football which will carry over into life in general for most of them.  The team is made up of seniors down to freshmen which bodes well for the future.  The Pirates have come a long long way since the downsizing of the school as a whole, and the sports programs specifically, since the opening of Yulee High School.  They are certainly much leaner than the old days but are up and coming as a team and program.

  The marching band is still a wonder to observe!  Johnny Robinson is living proof that hard work and dedication can produce amazing results.  I am in a state of awe every time I contemplate the number of young people he has touched through his distinguished career at FBHS.  The dedication of the students is equaled only by their parents that are the backbone of the program.

  Friday evening was followed by a wonderful early morning excursion to the new and improved Farmer's Market.  "Who'd a thunk it?"  It has grown by leaps and bounds and continues to improve weekly!  Makes you wonder how good the old one could have been had its leadership had a little more open minded approach and foresight.  The City Commission and Mr. Gerrity are to be commended in their quick response to the treasonous abandonment of the old group and implementation of the new and improved version.  There are vendors comparable to what we have only seen at markets in much larger communities and the crowd seemed to grow as the day got older.  I hope there is a quid pro quo for the vendors and shoppers.  We certainly got our benefits from our visit and have to believe the whole thing will only grow stronger and prosper for our community as a whole.

  Having spent time in larger places I am troubled though by the lack of numbers that do support such programs.  Small town life is about pleasantries and benefits of enjoying your neighbors - both close by and across town.  The high school activities and events offer an excellent opportunity to show our younger citizens that we care about them and their future is the ultimate quest of our community.  You would be surprised who you can run into at the games, and at the Farmer's Market also.

  What a beautiful place we call home!  Get out and mingle.  Participate in some of these events that you have long ago abandoned.  The faculty, band leaders, coaching staff, parents and, especially, the young participants all appreciate your presence.

  You have a chance to be "community" by going out for a couple of hours.  Pair the evening with an early dinner at one of the many restaurants and a ball game.  Or a Saturday morning with breakfast or lunch and the Farmer's Market.  Walk downtown, or the beach, and mix in some exercise with our beautiful little Eden of the First Coast.  You will be surprised at how much richer your life is with just a little participation in these "hometown" activities.  That is what Smalltown, America is all about!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Farmer's Market Fireworks

  There have been multiple letters to the editor of the News-Leader regarding the departure, growth, needs of the old Fernandina Farmer's Market that began in Central Park and moved downtown to the unit block of North 7th Street.  First and foremost, a Farmer's Market is a plus and a community enhancer.  It brings people together, out of their cars, homes and shells, and they interact.  That is a great gain for all of us.  Kudos to the City Commission and Mr. Gerrity for making the interim market happen last weekend!  I was unable to attend due to family obligations but am looking forward to this Saturday with anticipation.

  Second, the manner in which the market was moved to the Plantation was shady at best and smells like a heap of rotting fish truthfully.  Failure to communicate with the City about the permits for operation appears intentional whilst planning was going on to kowtow to the Omni hierarchy for someone's benefit other than the citizens of Fernandina who were responsible for the success of the market.  The fact that a press release pre-dated notice to the City that the market was gone as of the following Saturday - that's right, no advance notice to the governmental entity that helped it prosper - speaks volumes about the intent and interests of its leaders.  Letters to the Editor of the paper indicating anything to the contrary are merely revisionist history and probably authored by someone with close connection to its operators or at least unwilling to see the truth.

  Is a move necessary?  Possibly!  Anything that would enhance the future market will be good for all of us.  The waterfront?  I don't think so because of the possible conflicts with boats, the boat ramp, trailer parking and the like.  Near the waterfront?  Absolutely!

  As opposed as I usually am to committees I think the commission should appoint a select committee with a limited lifespan and specific duties regarding a new farmer's market operation within the city.  Representatives should include the historic district, the remainder of the city, downtown business members, a city official and probably either law enforcement or fire and rescue or both.  Recommendations should be returned by a date specific to Mr. Gerrity who could then present the options to the commission as a whole and guidelines could be set in place to more effectively operate a market that benefits the city as a whole and not just some self serving strong arm who does things at his or her whim.

  A committee such as that with a deadline of mid-January would allow for a fresh start - forgive the pun - next spring and allow us to flourish as we progress through the growing season for local, or near local, vegetables and fruits along with the other items that have become commonplace among the Farmer's Markets across the south.

  Fernandina is a beautiful community!  There are more pluses than minuses and if you eliminate the differences over political approaches to government it is the true gem of the southeast coast.  We aren't as big as Savannah or St. Augustine.  Not as touristy as Daytona or Myrtle Beach.  Prettier than all of them in our natural resources.  The benefits of various points of view can me melded into a great future for our little town.  Some of the ideas already being espoused are excellent and show a deference to the existing businesses with brick and mortar commitments and an intent to improve the offerings of a market to include other local artisans on occasion.  It does not need to become a flea market, as Commissioner Bunch opined, but it could include a periodic art element along with other contributions that lead to its vitality.

  Every cloud may not have a silver lining but this one sure appears to for all of us.  We got lemons so lets make lemonade!