A Social Endeavor

Woman’s Vision Unites Consumers With Locally Grown Produce


What if you could find local farm-fresh fruit and veggies just by clicking a button on Facebook?

That’s the vision that drove Jillian Childs to create Florida Farm Finder. 

Childs grew up in rural upstate New York in the Catskill mountains, where local farms were a dime a dozen and it was easy to find fresh, homegrown food everywhere you turned (even if you weren’t looking for it).

She grew up in agriculture herself, raising layer and meat chickens and growing a large vegetable garden. She took great pride in the work she did on her family farm, where she helped with everyday farm chores along with seasonal apple u-picks and pumpkin patches.

When Childs moved to Florida in 1995, she found herself drawn to Florida’s beaches and (significantly) warmer weather, but she never let the agrarian lifestyle escape her. When she eventually married and moved to Polk County, she was surprised at the limited number of farms available with direct-to-consumer sales, despite Polk County’s storied agricultural heritage. 

Childs and her family jumped into homesteading as a result, raising vegetables, meat rabbits, and chickens. Over the years, she worked hard to help others connect with local food, going so far as to help friends host farmers markets tied to their small farms.

It wasn’t until 2020, however, that Childs realized the serious problem lurking in Polk County: It seemed nobody knew how to find local food. 

The Birth of Florida Farm Finder

In March of 2020, Childs was struck by the disparity in images she saw on social media. Though not a Polk County-specific problem in the slightest, as these scenes were unfolding all around the country, the events made her sick to her stomach. 

Millions of pounds of food was being wasted on American farms when demand collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the US Department of Agriculture did eventually launch a program to redistribute the food, the response was slow to happen.

Everywhere she turned, Childs saw images of farmers tilling their crops during what should have been the peak spring harvest. Meanwhile, families were lining up for hours at local food banks.  

This disconnect prompted her to create the Florida Farm Finder Facebook group. 

“I created the group originally to help friends and family take advantage of all of those fresh food opportunities and connect them with people I already knew in the community,” Childs explains.

Since its inception, the group has grown exponentially. 

“By the time the state reopened in fall 2020, we had hit 5,000 members and we had begun to spread into other parts of Florida,” Childs says. 

Today, the group boasts nearly 80,000 members and connects people all over the world to farm-direct food in Florida, generating more than 150 new conversations a week and reaching more than 10 million people annually.

Starting the Florida Farm Finder group was not without its challenges. Convincing small producers of the group’s value was initially difficult, but the results have spoken for themselves. 

“Currently we struggle with all of the regular problems a large public Facebook group has, like spammers and scammers,” Childs admits. But with the help of a dedicated team of 20 admins and moderators, the group continues to thrive.

A Warm Reception From the Community

The local community and farmers have responded enthusiastically to the Florida Farm Finder group, with people often surprised to discover how close they live to local producers. 

“We get a lot of, ‘Wow! They are only 15 minutes from me!’” Childs shares. 

The impact has been significant, to say the least. 

“We’ve helped farms who’ve been turned away by a bad market or overflowing packing house move their bulk product directly to consumers,” Childs notes. 

The group has also facilitated collaborations between farmers, chefs, and consumers, and helped promote the use of (and end the stigma associated with) EBT/SNAP at farmers markets.

Looking Ahead

Childs has ambitious plans for the future of Florida Farm Finder. 

“This year, I’d love to reach 100K members. We’re on track for it,” she says. She is also working towards becoming a 501(c)(3) organization and building additional income streams to support her goal of working on Farm Finder full-time within the next five years.

While Childs recognizes the importance of social media in connecting producers and consumers, she is also exploring offline initiatives, like a lifelong dream of creating a farm tour series that stretches from Key West to Pensacola. 

Other upcoming events include a farmer market in Mount Dora, along with partnerships with the Tampa Bay Rodeo & Family Festival and the Florida Local Food Project.

A Personal Journey

Running the Florida Farm Finder group has deeply affected Childs’ personal and professional life. 

“It has completely absorbed my life in all the best ways,” she says. The group has provided her family with unique experiences and has allowed her to connect with passionate individuals who share her love for farm-direct food.

For those looking to promote local agriculture in their communities, Childs offers this advice: “Meet the farmers. Get out in the dirt. Go to the state markets and learn how the retailers buy their goods. Visit the processing facilities and the compost yards. Experience all types of growing. Learn about what consumers want and what farmers need and figure out a way to bring them together in your area.”

With Florida Farm Finder, Childs has created a thriving community that bridges the gap between local farmers and consumers, fostering a deeper appreciation for fresh, locally grown food. Her dedication and vision continue to inspire and drive the initiative’s growth.For more information or to join the Florida Farm Finder community, visit FloridaFarmFinder.com or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok as Florida Farm Finder.

Accessibility Toolbar