By Pat Foster-Turley
December 16, 2022
One of the first local persons I met when I returned to Fernandina from Tanzania more than 20 years ago was Gerald, the proprietor of 14th Street Produce, the vegetable stand on Amelia Island between Sadler and Lime. I was lonely then, with few local friends, and Gerald was always willing to talk to me while I purchased his vegetables and fruits. Later on, with more friends, I hosted a party at my home celebrating a Georgian feast (the “other” Georgia) after I returned from a business trip in Eastern Europe, and Gerald happily procured all sorts of fresh greens for me to add to the festivities. He was always there, his produce was always fresh, and he was always fun to talk to. In his later years at the stand he called me “The Naked Lady” since I would generally show up in my fluffy white bathrobe after water aerobics to buy my vegetables.
Over the years I watched his health deteriorate and his daughter Jessica taking on a bigger role in the produce stand. Jessica now runs the stand, helped now by her daughter Makala and sometimes her son Drew and older daughter Elizabeth. They are the fourth generation running this stand! Gerald’s father-in law started selling vegetables from a portable stand near the same spot on 14th Street when it was only a two-lane road. Eventually when his health got poorer, Gerald, then recently retired from Winn-Dixie, took over the business and expanded it to the permanent location it now occupies. And now it is Jessica’s turn to run the stand. Maybe Makala will be next?
This is by no means an easy job, and it is getting more difficult all the time, what with rising food prices, supply chain issues, gas prices and a changing Fernandina Beach. Jessica lives in Georgia and drives early in the morning a few times a week to the Beaver Street Market in Jacksonville to buy her fresh produce. She says it takes her about two hours at the market to choose the best vegetables and fruit for her customers on Amelia Island. Think about it. Fresh vegetables definitely have a “sell-by” date and it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to know what her customers will buy, and when. With two generations in this business before her, that accumulated information helps, for sure.
Now Jessica and I have become regular friends too. She shares stories with me about the pesky squirrels that raid her stand, and the rising prices of tomatoes and all sorts of other things too. I’ve watched her kids grow up and I still send regards from “The Naked Lady” to Gerald through her. One day I arrived at the stand to find Makala in tears upset about the car that hit a group of geese crossing 14th Street in front of the stand. A few geese were killed, but Makala rushed out to collect one that was still alive, and they held it behind the stand, trying to keep it alive until their work day was over and they could take it to someone they knew who would help it. Alas, the goose didn’t live long enough to get there.
Fourteenth Street Produce is marked by an American flag and is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. On Saturdays she is joined by the Natural Spring Market, a vendor from Hastings selling farm fresh cheese, kombucha, poultry eggs, etc.
Whenever I stop by Jessica’s stand there is always a good assortment of fresh veggies and fruit and often some surprising additions like fresh ginger and turmeric, local farm-raised eggs, fresh citrus and other items she gets from local sources. The produce stand is a meeting place for lots of old-timers that have been buying their products for years and Jessica and her family are always there to help people carry their purchases to their cars.
I always stop at 14th Street Produce to buy my fresh veggies before I head to Publix or Harris Teeter for the rest of my grocery shopping and now, maybe you will too. Not only do I always find better, fresher and less expensive produce at 14th Street Produce, it’s the local atmosphere I crave. I would hate to see this aspect of the “old Fernandina” die out in these trying days. Times are tough for this long-standing icon of our friendly island. Let’s all do our best to keep supporting them!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]