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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Conscious cuisine: Rocky Soil Family Farm on how to reconnect with your food

Kiona Wagner with her young child watering a plant

Chris Wagner’s background as a chef and his wife Kiona’s experience in event planning led to the couple’s interest in expanding their garden to a full-fledged farm.

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You could call Chris and Kiona Wagner trendsetters. In 2019, before the COVID pandemic forced all of us to reevaluate our priorities, the couple decided to make a big change.

They had both worked for a university in Miami, commuting together through the dreadful South Florida traffic. Workplace stresses followed them home, and their only solace was their quarter-acre garden.

“Life is short, and we didn’t just want to be small players in this corporation just trying to climb the ladder,” Kiona says. “We wanted something more meaningful for ourselves and for our family.”

Chris’s background as a chef and Kiona’s experience in event planning led to the couple’s interest in expanding their garden to a full-fledged farm. After several years of research, they were ready to take the leap.

Rocky Soil Family Farm produces fruit, vegetables, herbs and eggs, which the Wagner sell at farmers markets. The farm was intended to be in South Florida, but the couple ended up purchasing land in Monticello, about 30 miles east of Tallahassee: 10 acres of open land, with an additional three acres of oak trees.

“We were actually going to pursue a purchase of a strawberry farm in Homestead, Florida, and Homestead is basically nothing but coral,” Chris says. “Little did we know, where we are now, there’s no rock in sight. So now [the name] became a metaphor of, if you face a rock, climb over it, under it, on the side. But make it happen.”

The couple have climbed many rocks since starting the farm. They’re still adjusting to the North Florida growing seasons. They’ve tackled various farm-related projects, including while Kiona was pregnant with their twin daughters; they document the projects on their YouTube channel. They grow, harvest and pack all the produce themselves, with occasional help from their teenage son. And all this is without the financial security that comes with traditional 9-to-5 jobs.

“It’s still very much a learning curve for us,” Kiona says.

But they say it’s worth it.

“The workload is the same,” Chris says. “The stress is not the same. Because now it’s for us.”

The Wagners plan to expand the farm to include a bakery and event space. They know such a drastic lifestyle change isn’t for everyone, but they believe we all can be more connected to our food. They encourage consumers to support local farmers and to consider joining a co-op.

“The mediocre food that you can buy or get delivered from big companies was always an unbelievable thing for me,” says Chris, who grew up in Germany eating farm-fresh produce. “So I always wanted to have food that I can actually give my baby without concern.”

Thank you to our sponsors: Seitenbacher and TECO Peoples Gas

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