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Alachua ‒ For the past 20 years, the First United Methodist Church has been selling pumpkins during October at a field fronting U.S. Highway 441 on the west side of Alachua. Various pumpkins of all sizes and colors are arranged in artful displays, which also include activity areas, mainly directed towards children's activities. It has become a tradition for many families to celebrate the Halloween season.

But this year, there was a question of whether there would be a pumpkin patch due to the pandemic. Pastor Augie Allen, became the new pastor at the church in July. One of the first decisions he made was whether to hold the annual event. “We discussed whether we could safely do this and follow the CDC guidelines,” Allen said. “We felt we could safely do it since the pumpkin patch and the children's activities were all held outdoors and could be spaced far enough apart for social distancing.”

This year’s pumpkin patch once again featured the maze, hayrides, bean bag toss and a photo area. Missing from the annual affair is the fall fest event, which was cancelled due to crowd size and limitations on food.

Each year the church sells around 20,000 pumpkins ranging from 50 cents to $26, as well as homemade pumpkin bread. Setting all this up is a group effort for the church with everyone pitching in on unloading, making displays or manning the pumpkin patch. Twice a week, the youths in the church come out and “roll” each pumpkin so it does not go bad from sitting on the same side.

The pumpkins come from the Navajo tribes in New Mexico where the climate is ideal for growing large pumpkins. A commercial business working with the tribes imports the pumpkins to various churches and stores. The churches keep 40 percent of the profits and the tribe gets 60 percent. The First United Methodist Church uses profits to fund mission work for up to 40 members to go to various low-income areas in the Appalachians every year to help rebuild houses in need of major repairs the owner can’t afford. They also use the money to fund a camp for the deaf, mainly children, in the Dominican Republic.

“I have four kids of my own, and I know how hard this lockdown time has been for families,” said Allen. “We felt we needed to give them some place and activity to do outside the house that feels normal.”

There was concern that attendance would be down due to worries over the spread of the coronavirus, but just the opposite happened. “First half of the month was the busiest we have ever had. I guess it just goes to prove that people really want to have a sense of normalcy with traditional activities,” said Allen.

The pumpkin patch has become a familiar fall pastime as generations of families continue to enjoy the thousands of pumpkins and activities offered by the church.

“The Pumpkin Patch has a history in this city and for some people it is an annual event. We had a couple that came last year while the wife was pregnant,” said Allen. “They took a photo to commemorate the birth of their child and she delivered the next day. They came back this week with their baby to commemorate the first birthday of their child.”

Allen reports that both attendance and sales are up this year and they expect to sell out.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Looking ahead to the state’s upcoming 2021 legislative session, which starts next March, the Newberry City Commission is considering funding priorities and compiling a list of requests. The priority list “provides delegation members with comprehensive information that allows them to focus their efforts on specific legislative priorities and initiatives related to the City,” said City Manager Mike New.

“Initiatives typically included in the agenda relate to general legislative policy, general government, community and economic development, job training and education and capital projects and appropriations requests,” New said.

New provided a list of 21 items compiled by staff members last year for consideration.

The top five items on the list include funding requests for infrastructure improvements such as a $1 million state appropriation for a wastewater force main extension east on State Road 26 to facilitate economic development. Newberry’s investment as of last year is $1.4 million for a water system extension and wastewater lift station.

Also, on the list is to support funding for the Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund program and support an application from Newberry requesting $4.5 million in funding for Phase 1 infrastructure in the Newberry Ag-tech Innovation Park.

The City is also requesting an allocation of $30 million in funding for the construction phase of Florida Department of Transportation’s State Road 26 Modification Project – Newberry, which has completed the Project Development and Environmental Study (PD&E) phase, and is now in the design and property acquisition phase.

Also included is to support funding for grant/loan programs in Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for expansion of wastewater treatment facilities. Newberry anticipates a $4 million grant application for construction of advanced treatment effluent facility that will reduce nitrogen loading by more than 90 percent.

The City is also supporting funding for grant programs such as the springs and river management grant programs that focus on reducing nutrient loading on the aquifer from wastewater treatment facilities. Newberry anticipates a $2 million grant application for construction of advanced treatment effluent disposal system that will reduce nitrogen loading from City treatment facilities by more than 90 percent.

Commissioners will review these previously identified items and add or modify this list for the next legislative session.

The Commission also heard presentations at the Oct. 12 City Commission meeting, which included Alachua County Commission District 3 candidate Anna Prizzia, advocates for health care legislation, and another on behalf of the One Mill tax for schools.

Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board member Brendan Shortley and League of Women Voters of Florida’s Diane Dimperio addressed health care for Floridians and advocated the passage of legislation to expand Medicaid during the 2021 sessions of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives. The duo also earlier had delivered the same presentation to the High Springs City Commission.

A third presentation was made on behalf of the One Mill tax for schools, which also was delivered to the High Springs Commission earlier.

Newberry City Commissioners proclaimed Florida City Government Week of Oct. 19 – 25, Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23 – 31 and American Pharmacist Month during the entire month of October.

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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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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Traffic was backed up on U.S. Highway 441 at Northwest 202nd Street in High Springs on Friday, Oct. 23, due to a two-vehicle crash.

At 11:10 a.m., Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers were called to the scene of a crash between a yellow box truck, driven by a 70-year-old Citrus Springs man and a white 2019 Toyota Tundra, driven by a 50-year-old Alachua man.

According to the FHP, the driver of the Toyota was traveling north on Northwest 202nd Street. The 2013 GMC 3500 was traveling west on U.S. Highway 441. The driver of the Toyota failed to stop at the stop sign at U.S. Highway 441 and entered the intersection. At that time, the Toyota was struck on the right side by the yellow truck.

After the crash the Toyota overturned several times as it traveled northwesterly. Both vehicles came to a final stop on the grass shoulder of the north side of U.S. Highway 441.

Crews from High Springs Fire Department (HSFD) Engine 29 and Squad 29, plus Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) Forest Park Engine 80 extricated the injured driver of the yellow box truck using the Jaws of Life. The six firefighters were able to remove the injured driver in approximately 12 minutes by removing the bottom hinge of the front driver’s side door. Also on hand was a crew from ACFR Rescue 24 (Jonesville).

ShandsCair flew to Fellowship Baptist Church at 16916 N.W. U.S. Highway 441, where law enforcement from the High Springs Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office had established a landing zone, to pick up the driver of the yellow truck. ACFR crews transported the driver to the helicopter and a second ACFR crew drove the other driver to the hospital.

Both men were listed by FHP as having serious injuries. According to the FHP, both men were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

Initially, the northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 441 were blocked, followed by the southbound lanes for a short time while the helicopter landed and took off again. It is reported that fire crews were on the scene for approximately 45 minutes.

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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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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs Commission is considering recommendations about expansion of the water treatment facility (WTF) and of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).

Tim Norman of Mittauer & Associates addressed City Commissioners during the Oct. 22 meeting to formally request that the City consider recommendations on ways in which the two major projects might possibly be funded.

At earlier meetings and workshops both projects had been identified as necessary if the City is to continue to grow and provide adequate services to citizens. The WWTP expansion will also provide a higher level of treatment and aquifer recharge, all of which are important elements in reaching springs restoration goals.

Norman said his recommended actions would not obligate the City to move ahead with these projects using the suggested funding options, but rather would help provide the City with additional information and options.

Authorization to submit a request for inclusion to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) State Revolving Fund on behalf of the water treatment plant will also allow the engineering firm to begin work with City staff and FDEP to refine the City’s primary needs.

In the case of the wastewater treatment plant expansion, the current cost estimate to accomplish that work is $5.8 million. Norman received authorization from the Commission to submit funding applications to the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) for the FDEP Springs Funding and Alternative Water Supply Funding programs. This is the preferred funding choice because these programs can provide up to 100 percent grant funding, thereby assisting with the City’s goal of keeping citizens water and sewer rates reasonable..

Although the applications are submitted to SRWMD, they actually make recommendations for approval to FDEP, the agency making the final decision.

“The project received approval last year,” said Mittauer’s Vice President for Community Development Gregory Lang. “However, the water system improvements request for inclusion was withdrawn by a staff member no longer with the City. “We’re resubmitting the application in the hope that it will be approved for funding,” he said. All funding programs are competitive and although High Springs has demonstrated need, there is no guarantee that any specific application will be funded,” said Lang.

As a fallback to FDEP Springs and Alternative Water Supply funding, Commissioners also authorized a request for inclusion to the FDEP State Revolving Fund for low interest loan funding.

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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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