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BRANFORD ‒ A Branford woman was killed as she walked along U.S. Highway 27 and into the path of a vehicle. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of a fatal accident at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 20. The incident occurred in Suwannee County on U.S. Highway 27 east of Craven Street in Branford.

A 50-year-old High Springs man driving a pickup truck was southbound on U.S. 27. For reasons FHP says are still under investigation, the 67-year-old Branford woman walked from the center of the roadway directly in front of the pickup truck at which time the truck struck the woman within the southbound lane.

After impact, the driver of the pickup truck brought his vehicle to a controlled stop in the south ditch of U.S. 27, just east of the area of collision. His vehicle was facing east.

The pedestrian came to a final rest in the southbound lane. She was pronounced deceased.

The FHP reports that her next of kin were notified.

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Alachua ‒ Live music returned to the city of Alachua on Oct. 24, a year after City officials cut the ribbon at the new outdoor amphitheater in Legacy Park. The amphitheater was part of the overall plan to make Legacy Park a central location for various recreational activities for city residents and visitors. The amphitheater is designed to host a variety of entertainment and cultural events such as concerts, dance recitals, theater and possibly an outdoor movie night. The project cost $3.2 million and also included two large multipurpose fields for outdoor sports tournaments and seating for events.

Plans were made for hosting a monthly summer concert series starting in the spring of 2020. The Parks and Recreation Department planned to bring in a diverse mix of music from jazz and rock to country. “We wanted to try different styles to see what the audiences were most interested in,” said Kimberly Vermillion, the City’s event coordinator.

But the pandemic struck and like everything else, social gatherings were put on hold, and the new amphitheater sat silent and empty throughout the summer. “We had to cancel bands that were already booked and take it month-by-month waiting for a chance to reopen safely where people would feel comfortable coming out,” Vermillion stated.

After postponing events for months, the City held its first concert event Saturday night featuring Majesty of Rock, a tribute band that plays the music of Journey and Styx. Based in Central Florida, the band consist of John D'Agostino, lead vocals; Rob Doyle, bass and vocals; and Bob Hoose, guitar, vocals, keyboard; and vocalist Barry Gruber and drummer Jimi Bauchat.

To follow CDC safety guidelines, the City painted squares large enough for three to four people on the ground with each square six feet apart to maintain social distance. Also, on site was a food truck vendor. “We had planned on having multiple vendors, but since this was the first event, we limited it to one in case the crowd was small so a single vendor could still make money,” Vermillion said.

In addition to music at the event, former Santa Fe College art professor Blake Harrison had paintings on display. Harrison is best known for his wall murals in downtown Gainesville. Several years ago, he also helped repair the wall mural of Tom Petty on the 34thth Street wall in Gainesville. The mural had been painted by another artist as a tribute to Petty who is from Gainesville and had been defaced with graffiti. Since the original artist had left the area, Harrison repaired it for free and maintains it. “I took on the project because of Petty’s impact on Gainesville and the rest of the world with his music,” Harrison said. “I will keep repainting the wall as long as I need to even though it may get graffitied again.” Many of his paintings feature musicians, and Richardson felt it would be a good match for the opening concert.

Although this was the first public outdoor event at the amphitheater, there was still an audience of about 200 sitting on lawn chairs as Majesty of Rock performed a variety of Journey's songs in a two-hour concert.

“We learned some lessons at this event on how to improve the logistics and promotion for events at the amphitheater with this show, but overall, I think it went really well and I got a lot of positive feedback from the audience,” said Vermillion. “Unfortunately, this will be the only concert until next spring. We are getting into our busy holiday event schedule and need to focus on that.”

The City plans to expand the shows here and feature bigger name acts as well. While concerts are on hold until spring, the amphitheater will host a free outdoor dance performance of the Nutcracker on Dec. 3 to celebrate the Christmas season.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The pandemic changed the concept of live music entertainment and put many musicians in dire financial situations. To make any income, performers have come up with other ways to reach their audiences and generate revenue. Unable to perform in bars and concerts due to the pandemic, many musicians went to online performances. But part of the magic of music is the energy and sense of unity between an audience and the performers.

The band Sister Hazel is taking today’s reality of COVID-19 limitations and blending it with the public’s historic love affair with drive-in movie theaters. The band, founded by Ken Block, Drew Copeland and Jett Beres in 1993 is no stranger to the area and Newberry seemed to be an ideal location for a novel idea.

Much of the band's income comes from touring, performing live in front of large crowds, but that came to a screeching halt in April 2020 as the pandemic raged across America. All music concerts were canceled and most bands were forced onto an unexpected hiatus. The world of music was changed in a matter of weeks.

“Touring was a way of life for us,” singer/guitarist Copland said. “Not only did the pandemic affect our income, but we had a crew of about 15 that was suddenly out of work. We tried to continue to pay them, but the loss meant that most of them had to supplement their income with other jobs to provide for their families. This meant they weren't always available to go on the road even if we had gigs,” Copeland said.

“We saw other groups use stream live and online video to try and survive, but it is just not the same energy as playing to a live audience. We wanted to try and find a safe way to get concerts going again, creating a model that could also help other musicians survive monetarily and bring normalcy back to the music world for both performers and audiences” Copeland stated. “Some musicians were doing live outdoor performances but on a much smaller scale, so we decided to try the concept of a drive-in concert. The band felt that safety was the main concern and CDC rules had to be maintained to keep from spreading the virus.”

“We took a big risk setting this model up and did the first show in Tampa. There were a lot of expenses involved that we had to cover up front and hoped the event was successful enough to compensate and provide some income for the band and support staff. We learned a lot of lessons from that show,” Copeland said.

For the second show they had support from the City of Newberry, and the band set up a show at the Post Farm at 28957 W. Newberry Road. The initial date was postponed due to the resurgence of the pandemic in late summer and it was rescheduled for Oct. 23. The venue offered a large field where cars could be parked at a staggered zig zag formation that included a second spot for each car's occupants to tailgate, which allowed for social distancing in the audience.

Tickets were sold per four-person vehicle for $149, but fans could purchase limited VIP for $169 utilizing the first several rows and $25 for any additional people per car with a maximum of six people. Cars were placed by parking attendant staff with cars and trucks placed based on size with lower cars in front, bigger cars in back so everyone could have an unobstructed view of the stage. Masks were required if anyone left their assigned area. Bathrooms were available and food was provided by Woodyard Grill in Newberry. More than a hundred cars packed full of people filled the lot as the band gave a flawless and energetic performance.

“This show showed we can do this safely and get back to some normalcy with live music,” Copeland said. “We are going to do several more shows in Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte to refine the logistics and see about creating concerts with other musicians to help provide a source of income despite the current situation. It felt great to play live again.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Dae Jung Kim has led a life of both adversity and accomplishments. Today Kim lives in High Springs, which is quite a distance from his native South Korea. The self-made millionaire entrepreneur is investing in local businesses and bringing employment to the area with the added goal of improving health through diet at several local restaurants. He also is heavily involved in protecting the environment and the rivers. In the short time he has been in High Springs, he has invested in two restaurants, a miniature golf course, a chef training academy, a 64-acre farm and a proposed RV park in Gilchrist County, as well as additional land for a conservation area.

Kim was born in South Korea to a financially struggling family. He was a small and sickly child with a number of ailments including auto immune disease, which would follow him into adulthood. At 12 years old, he started working as a newspaper delivery boy and in his mother's restaurant and has worked ever since. Kim emigrated to the United States in his early 20s, and despite his small size, he worked manual labor jobs while attending school, which further worsened his medical issues.

Founded D.C. Restaurant in 2002

In 2002 Kim opened the Java Green coffee house and restaurant in Washington D.C. “Java Green worked to create a better world by encouraging a socially-responsible, conscious lifestyle,” said Kim. “We were a green business using organic foods including fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, rice and noodles. Our goal was to create a restaurant that offered a healthier alternative as well as being socially conscious of environmental and humanitarian issues.”

Having seen hard times himself, Kim also helped those on the fringes of society that had trouble finding jobs including ex-felons, the homeless, veterans suffering from PTSD and those suffering from mental disabilities by giving them jobs at the restaurant and providing housing. “I believe that society and businesses that have the resources should be part of the community and help turn people’s lives around,” Kim said.

Java Green was a quick success, going from $40,000 profit to $100,000 in a year and becoming a popular place for eco and health minded customers, vegetarians and multiple nonprofit groups, immersing in a variety of causes as well as creating dynamic recipes. Java Green was voted one of the top five best green restaurants in DC in 2006 and the best green restaurant in 2007 and 2008.

But the long hours and hard work at the restaurant took its toll on Kim's health. While researching food for his restaurant, Kim realized a better diet could help solve some of his health issues. He also began studying eastern medicines and therapies and turned to a healthier diet. As he continued the diet and began to exercise, his health issues disappeared. With regular exercise, yoga and martial arts he continued to gain strength and mobility and eventually took up running again.

Formed J. Green Natural Foods Partnership

As things were looking up for Kim both health and business wise, he and entrepreneur Ethan Brown formed a partnership company, J. Green Natural Foods as the food production partner for the Java Green Cafe and also opened a second restaurant called Cafe' Green.

Then the recession hit just after the new lease was signed but before the second restaurant could open. Struggling financially, it took two years to open the second restaurant. Bank financing was withdrawn for the new restaurant and the J. Green business due to the recession and they were stuck paying the lease with income from Kim's Java Green restaurant. Kim ended up selling all but 10 percent of his shares in the new restaurant and J. Green so he could focus on his restaurant, and he wrote it off as a loss. Brown changed the name to Savage Rivers and moved to California to start over.

Financially things continued to get worse for Kim. Taking no money for himself, he continued to try and keep the restaurant afloat and pay his employees. In 2010, he lost his house and in 2012 he lost his restaurant as well. Kim was suddenly destitute and homeless, sleeping on friends’ couches with just a bicycle to get around.

Destitute and Homeless

He found work shoveling snow, collecting trash and working two days a week at a farmer’s market. While working at the farmers market, Kim discovered there was a lot of food that was thrown out as the vendors tore down. Kim collected the food in his backpack and rode his bike to the park to distribute it to the homeless and those in need. Despite his own dire situation, he was still focused on helping others and maintained a positive outlook.

“Happiness comes from the inside and a positive attitude makes all the difference. Money and possessions are only useful in how you give to others and to find your own inner peace,” Kim said. As people noticed his energy, they began to ask him to help them achieve that, as well as a healthy diet that had helped him so much. Still riding his bike and basically homeless, he held workshops for free and was paid by a medical college to lecture to their students about healthy living. For five years he rode his bike everywhere while working at the farmers market and providing the thrown away food to those who needed it.

His sister loaned him $8,000 for a car, but he saw friends and former employees in even more dire situations, and bought several of them bicycles for transportation and gave cash to those who needed food or rent. The $8,000 dwindled down to $2,000. By the time he found a car, the remaining money was stolen.

Surprising Turn of Events Brings Wealth

Kim had written off the J. Green company as a loss, but he contacted his former partner to see if there was enough in his 10 percent stock to buy a car. In the meantime, Brown and investors backed a plant-based meat substitute he was developing and in 2009 had changed the company name to Beyond Meats. It took them another five years to come up with a recipe for Beyond Meat’s first product, “Chicken-Free Strips,” which the company released to limited locations in 2012. In 2014 Beyond Meat expanded its presence from 1,500 to 6,000 stores across the U.S. and announced it had begun development of a new product to emulate beef burgers, which was released in February 2015 as the Beyond Burger. The company continued to grow in popularity.

About the time that Kim contacted Brown in 2019 the company had gone public as an IPO and stock prices and investment soared. The company was suddenly worth over $11 billion and Kim's 10 percent ownership made him a millionaire. Just as suddenly as his life had collapsed in 2012, it totally reversed in 2019.

Journey to High Springs

Kim left D.C. to start doing the things he had always planned—buying land to create an ecofriendly farm and conservation, protecting the environment, and building sustainable communities as well as helping those less fortunate. In the years he had his business and then been homeless, Kim had gathered a group of loyal friends who had also seen hard times and they now became his employees. “I always remembered what is was like to struggle and it guides my belief in helping others,” Kim said.

Searching for a warm climate with abundant natural environment and farming potential, in 2017 he visited High Springs and decided it was the place he wanted to settle someday. As he began to organize his plans, he spent time helping clean the local rivers and volunteering at Blue Springs Park. He has since bought the Diner and the Great Outdoors and plans to offer high quality fare, with both standard and vegetarian cuisine.

Kim has purchased another building across from the High Springs brewery that will become a bistro and training site for his chefs and others who want to learn vegetarian recipes. It will not be open regularly for customers, but will open for special occasions with a full-course meal for the customer to try new recipes by the chefs. His ecofriendly farm is energy efficient with a water reclamation system and no chemicals. Farm crops will be produced for his restaurant with possible expansion to the open market.

Reaching into neighboring Gilchrist County, he recently received approval of his plan for an RV park. While there has been some concern about the development, Kim points out that this will not be a typical RV park.

Kim says that part of the problem with development of suburb communities is that it occupies land, often destroying the natural habitat of species, using water and energy on an individual and more costly basis. He also references seasonal visitors and snowbirds who are either looking for rentals, condos or hotels to stay in and that the more affluent often have second homes that are unoccupied for much of the year, taking up land that could be used to preserve the environment and habitat of native animals.

“We are looking at a different model for the RV park,” Kim said. “The area where the RVs will camp was already cleared when we bought it, but it covers only a small portion of the purchased land.” Kim plans to leave the remainder as a nature conservatory and a refuge for the endangered Gopher tortoises that are there. The park will be energy self-sufficient powered by solar energy with a water reclamation system to conserve water and keep it out of the groundwater. Kim believes this will help consolidate some of the state’s visitors in a more environmental habitat and leave a smaller footprint than housing and hotel development.

“I believe that all of us must give back to the community and help create a better world to leave future generations” Kim said.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department, in cooperation with the Scientific Medical Advisory Council, have issued a statement regarding COVID-19 in local schools.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department have worked closely to limit the spread of the virus in local public schools. Their efforts include a rigorous testing procedure for students and staff who have symptoms or have had significant contact with a positive COVID-19 case in a school and rapid contact tracing.

To promote their efforts, both the district and the Health Department have collaborated on a daily basis with the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), a team of medical professionals from the University of Florida with expertise in pediatrics, infectious diseases, and environmental and global health.

The protocols the district follows in addressing an active COVID-19 case in a school, including quarantine guidelines, testing timelines, and return to school protocols, were all developed in collaboration with the SMAC and are updated based on SMAC recommendations.

The SMAC also developed the criteria for determining when a classroom/school should be closed due to COVID. SMAC members review all COVID cases in the district on a daily basis and advise the district on steps that need to be taken to limit spread. SMAC also meets weekly to discuss trends in the data and consider adjustments to protocols.

Currently both the SMAC and the Health Department confirm that there are primarily individual cases in elementary and middle schools, with increased numbers in the high schools related to sports teams.

To date, there has been minimal to no in-classroom transmission in the schools. A majority of cases in the district have been traced to team sports and social events outside of school.

In keeping with recommendations from the medical experts, entire sports teams have been quarantined when there is a positive case. Under the protocols, an entire class would be quarantined if there were three or more positive cases within a 14-day period in that class. To date, only one classroom at Gainesville High School has been quarantined based on this metric. That occurred as the result of a positive test result received yesterday (October 28). However, all but five students from that class had already been quarantined due to significant contact with a positive case.

In fact, many positive cases at schools are actually identified during the quarantine period and as a result of contact tracing and testing conducted by the Health Department at local schools. The number of cases at GHS and all other schools in Alachua County Public Schools do not currently meet the SMAC criteria for closing an entire school. Such a step would be taken if 10 percent of all classes in a middle or high school or three or more classes in an elementary school were closed due to quarantines and after consultation with the SMAC.

All protocols can be found on the district’s COVID-19 webpage at https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/30007

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ City of High Springs voters will be choosing between six candidates to fill two open seats on the High Springs City Commission in the upcoming election. On Oct. 20, these voters had an opportunity to hear from each of the candidates running for spots on the commission.

All six candidates gathered at the new Farmers Market Pavilion for a meet and greet event to share their views with residents. The first half hour was spent with the candidates talking individually to the public before taking seats at a long table decorated with patriotic colors.

The event was sponsored by the GFWC High Springs Woman's Club to help inform citizens of candidate options and the difference between them. Once the candidates were seated at the forum, each one was presented with three question supplied by the moderator and each had two minutes to respond to each question.

Questions ranged from the three most pressing issues facing the city to deteriorating buildings to city services and economic development.

Candidates for seat one are Ross Ambrose, Sharon Decker and Janet Evans. Ambrose believes it is important to manage growth while also maintaining the small-town identity and balance the environmental needs of the river system with growth and increased tourism. He also said it is necessary to pay city employees and first responders enough to retain them to keep consistency in government. Sharon Decker echoed those concerns and believes that public safety is an important issue, especially in making sure first responders have the staffing and equipment they need to properly do their job. Janet Evans believes in small government that can focus on the specific issues facing citizens, with priority on managing growth and infrastructure.

Seat two has three candidates as well. Gloria James is presently a commissioner and is running for reelection. She is currently Vice Mayor and believes that her experience as part of city government gives her a better understanding of the issues facing the town and its expanding growth. Zachary Walters is the youngest candidate and believes that bringing more employment and jobs to High Springs is important. While he favors more jobs, especially in higher tech industries, he also wants to make sure growth is well managed to maintain the small-town feel while also offering incentives to keep youth from leaving. Engineer and scientist Kathrine Weitz expressed concern over aging water and wastewater system infrastructure. With the expanding population growth in the area she believes the City needs to address improving a system that is already overburdened and outdated. She also spoke about the cost and getting back to long-term budget planning for future growth.

In a time when political debate is heated, this forum stood out for its civility and mutual respect among the candidates..

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Alachua ‒ It’s not Mardi Gras season, but visitors to downtown Alachua may think otherwise. For the past 15 years, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce has sponsored Scarecrow Row along Alachua’s Main Street in celebration of Halloween and the fall season. Each year, Scarecrow Row has a theme and scarecrows carry out that theme through use of colorfully decorated costumes, props and whatever the imagination can create. This year, it’s Mardi Gras in October as Scarecrow Row pays tribute to the famous New Orleans celebration.

Each business on Main Street has the opportunity to decorate one of the light pole locations on Main Street with a scarecrow they create. They can also partner with a local corporate business sponsor such as grocery stores, realtors, banks and distribution centers. While not all Main Street businesses have a scarecrow, most decorate their display windows to reflect the season.

Businesses not located on Main Street can either partner with a Main Street business or purchase their own pole, which also includes their business name on the banner at each end of Main Street. The money raised goes toward programs and events hosted by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce to help promote business on Main Street and provide services and facilities to the community, including events like Trick or Treat on Main Street and the Christmas Parade. Funds raised by the Chamber of Commerce have also been used to make improvements at Alachua's Hal Brady Recreation Center as well as other projects.

Scarecrow Row is an on-going event throughout the entire month of October. People can walk the street and see a wide variety of hand created scarecrows decked out in the Mardi Gras theme. Some are funny, some are spooky, some are simple, some are extensive, but all are creative. Each participating business has designed and constructed their own display that is entered into the Scarecrow Row contest that will be judged. Prizes, as well as plaques, will be presented for first, second, and third place winners.

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