Pure and Simple

This is an article that ran in sarasota magazine in January, 2000.  Since then, the farm has been renamed after Jessica Pischer, the owners' eldest daughter, and the produce stand has expanded to offer one of the best selections of organic produce in Florida.

For 20 years, DeSoto Lakes Organic Farm has been growing fresh and healthy vegetables in the heart of Sarasota.

Just a short drive east of U.S. 301 off DeSoto Road, surrounded by suburbia and a stone’s throw from a golf course, is a ramshackle collection of two houses, a greenhouse and a big, rickety roadside stand. It’s all surrounded by row after row of lush green plants; and if you’re lucky enough to drive by on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, you can pull over and purchase some of the freshest, most flavorful produce you’ll ever taste in your life.

 Though many consumers are increasingly alarmed about issues such as the genetic altering of food or the rising use of pesticides—commercial broccoli is treated with 35 pesticides, for example, and carrots with 22—it’s difficult to find fresh, organically grown produce. That’s because organic farming is a tough, labor-intensive business that struggles to make a profit. Few growers are willing to convert from toxic chemical fertilizers to piles of aged chicken manure or to use boxes of ladybugs instead of insecticides to control pests. And how many will hire workers to sit on their haunches in rows of escarole, painstakingly pulling every weed, instead of quickly dousing everything in herbicide? Yet fortunately for Southwest Florida consumers, DeSoto Lakes Organic Farm in Sarasota has managed to survive and thrive on ecologically sound, planet-loving methods.

For Pischer—a wiry, shaggy-haired former cook and groundskeeper—organic farming is not a job; it’s a calling that has led him out to his fields by 6 a.m. nearly every morning for the last 20 years. Pischer began leasing the five acres of land in 1978, bought it a few years later and built or renovated just about everything that’s on it, including the barn that houses his long-time hired help. For years he went without indoor plumbing to save enough money to dig three wells to water his crops. Today, Pischer and his wife Pam and their four children, aged three to 10, do have indoor plumbing, but the fields outside remain the center of the family’s existence.

From October through May, visitors to Jessica’s Stand (named after Pischer’s 10-year-old daughter and open Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings) will find a wide variety of seasonable produce, including broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, carrots, green beans, sugarsnap peas and an enticing assortment of greens, from Romaine lettuce to Swiss chard, arugula and dandelion. Pischer also imports organic produce, including apples, potatoes, cherries, pears and much, much more.

“People think we’re radicals,” Pischer says of organic farmers. “But I think the radicals are those who are strip mining, tearing down our forests, the ones who are the chemical farmers. We’re the real conservatives.”

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