Jacksonville in a Box

Have you ever wanted to share a city with someone long-distance? A tricky feat, to say the least. Jacksonville, the largest city in the lower 48 states, is a bit too big to fit in a box. At least, that’s what most people would say. Jonny Videl thinks differently.

It all started when his friend was stationed in Iraq, about a year and a half ago. Jonny decided to send his friend a care package. He threw a box together and sent it over to his friend. Once the package arrived, the others who were stationed with Jonny’s friend wanted a box of their own. This word of mouth care packaging system rapidly expanded. Soon, Jonny was coming up with packages for college kids, conferences, housewarming gifts, property managers, and more. The best part about these packages is that they’re totally local, and totally Jacksonville.DSC_0230 As Jacksonville in a Box grew larger, Jonny realized he needed a place to put these boxes together. Enter Arc, Jacksonville’s own community for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Arc specializes in giving individuals a chance to work, learn, and have fun, without worrying about discrimination or a lack of peace. Jonny decided to partner with Arc, whose wonderful members work hard on putting together these awesomely local boxes. Jonny is completely indebted to Arc, which brought Jacksonville in a Box out of the ground, and has helped make it the successful business that it is now.DSC_0232 DSC_0234 DSC_0242 DSC_0246 DSC_0247 DSC_0248 DSC_0255   DSC_0261Currently, Jacksonville in a Box has two sizes. The large box is an experience box, with over 12 items, including Jaguars stickers, Bono’s barbecue sauce, burger seasoning from FreshJax, Sweet Pete’s candy (my favorite), a Jacksonville Suns foam finger, and more. The smaller boxes contain only edible items. Jonny’s hoping to expand his reach and fit as many bits of Jacksonville in a box that he can.

Jonny’s got his own love for the city that he hopes to share with others. He’s a big fan of the beach, but he’s especially proud of the rejuvenation that has taken place downtown and in the neighborhoods around Jax. “There’s so many cool pockets,” he says. His favorite hang out area is Murray Hill. His goal is to spread “a little taste of Jacksonville” with anyone he can. To Jonny, this is more than sending people a box–it’s about sending Jacksonville along with it. The biggest reward he’s had so far is getting the chance to shine a spotlight on The Arc. Without Arc, Jacksonville in a Box wouldn’t be what it is.

Jacksonville in a Box is one of the coolest things I’ve discovered here. How many times have I thought, If only I could show someone a glimpse of Jacksonville? Jonny Videl has given me, and the rest of the city, the opportunity to do just that. He’s done the hard work of getting local companies on board; now, all he needs to do is share this awesome idea with the rest of the city, so that the world can discover all the bits of Jacksonville that we love.

Music Mondays // Jacob Hudson

Music can be a topic as touchy as who to vote for, or whether or not you like mayo. For Jacob Hudson, however, talking about music is as easy as talking about breathing–because for Jacob, music is breathing. Somewhere in the City met with Jacob a few years back, when he was at a different stage of his life. It’s always good to catch up with our favorite locals, particularly when something new and exciting comes their way. For Jacob, it’s the completion of his record “The Tomb” and his first music video for “The Dirt.”

The two of us met in Vagabond and chatted about his upbringing, his influences, and the fact that we’re both cat people. I’m always curious about people’s “How’s.” How does someone decide to be a musician? How did Jacob know this was something he wanted to pursue? Well, like most stories, Jacob’s doesn’t have a single, defining moment; rather, his story is one that progressed through time, with a little bit of help from family, church, and his own bravery.jacobThis Jacksonville native was homeschooled, meaning that he’s smarter than most of the people his age, and probably people older. Despite doing his studies at home, he didn’t dabble too much with music until his church, Celebration, recognized his potential and invested in his skills. He started messing around with drums and playing at Sunday services at Celebration. This familiarity with instruments grew until he’d picked up the piano, guitar, and singing to boot.

Things got serious when he was 16. Jacob’s family has always been supportive of his musical abilities, so much so that his brother loaned him the money to buy recording equipment so that he could record his first album. Jacob didn’t stop there, either. At 17 years old, he was confident enough to book himself for a 15-day tour around Atlanta, Nashville, Asheville, and Savannah. Remember, this kid’s 17. Jacob discovered then that he was great at networking, but not so good at balancing performances with his passion for writing. The tour left him drained and without the drive to write songs. He stayed in a rut for awhile, until the inspiration kicked back in and he wrote his next record, entitled “The Tomb.”

At this point, you may be wondering what type of music Jacob writes. A few of his role models are William Fitzsimmons, whose soft and raw voice was the inspiration for Jacob’s own voice (“He’s Iron and Wine softness divided by 2,” Jacob told me); Sujan Stevens, where Jacob found his quirky way of writing;  Nick Drake; and Simon & Garfunkel. We discussed the frustration of trying to classify ourselves into specific genres that may be too narrow or too broad for our liking. In the end, Jacob settles for folk, though he acknowledges that his music doesn’t fit with all the motifs of folk music. He doesn’t classify himself as a Christian musician, though he says his pieces may have notes of Christian influence. He’s a fan of the 1970’s folk feel, with warm and darker tones that aren’t crisp and perfected like a conventional studio-recorded sound. With “The Tomb”, Jacob steered away from the feel of ’60s Gospel and opted for the roomy, organic sound of a record made in a cabin in the mountains–which was exactly where he recorded “The Tomb.” His record shows his journey from the bitterness of a past relationship transformed into honest introspection and acceptance of how he has changed, and for the better.jacobI wondered if Jacob was writing every day, or if he had to wait for some magical inspiration to kick in. He says that he can go months without writing, and then suddenly songs will pile on him at once. He admits that he feels things very strongly and wants to put his feelings onto paper, but in a way that others can relate to. “I try to be imaginative,” he says, trying to broaden his current emotion so that it’s a situation wide enough for anyone to understand.

For someone brave enough to go on tour at 17, Jacob is surprisingly shy when it comes to his family. “I was terrified to sing alone with my parents,” he says with a laugh. The first time his family heard him sing was when they listened to a song he’d recorded. He showed them how to access the song, and then avoided his parents for the rest of the day. Good news–they loved his music. His family is his biggest fan and is sure to be at every show. After 3 tours, Jacob has gotten back into doing local shows, though he acknowledges that Jacksonville’s music culture isn’t very healthy right now. He’d like to see smaller house shows that don’t drag until it’s super late at night. He’s a fan of an intimate performance setting, a community-based one where he can build relationships with a few fans, rather than call out generic greetings to hundreds of fans. It’s the “I’d rather have a few close friends than a million acquaintances” philosophy, which makes sense when you understand Jacob’s introverted personality. His tendency to keep to himself means that his fans don’t know too much about him. I did the hard work and asked Jacob the questions that others might not know the answers to.

Favorite part about Jax: Murray Hill, where his studio is. He likes Murray Hill at night, when the neighborhood gets dead, and he can have theological discussions in the parking lot until it’s way past bedtime.

Favorite food: Southern breakfast with a nice cup of coffee. Maple Street is his go-to. We now know why his studio is in Murray Hill.

Things that terrify him: Cockroaches. He won’t even pick up a dead one, he’ll just kick it until he can’t see it anymore.

For Jacob, it’s not about the success; it’s about making his music and connecting with others. Make your own connection with Jacob by checking out his Spotify. See his latest music video for “The Dirt” here. You’ll want to watch it again and again (see if you can recognize the setting!). Kick back with some coffee, and maybe a biscuit from Maple Street, and get to know Jacob. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Bella Lina Bath

Superheros aren’t the only ones with origin stories. The events leading up to Bella Lina Bath involve goats, eczema, bacon fat, and a really smart grandmother. Curious yet? So was I, and I asked Jessica Sanchez plenty of questions. You’ve probably seen her around RAM. You may have even bought some of her bath bombs that smell like candy. They taste like candy, too. Just kidding. Sort of. No really, don’t eat your bath bombs.

Jessica is originally from Reading, Pennsylvania. (Yes, there’s really a city called “Reading.” No, I don’t know if the city is built out of books.) As a young girl, Jessica dealt with painful eczema. Her skin would become itchy and flaky and would get easily inflamed. Her grandmother eventually decided to take matters into her own hands and made soap out of goats milk and bacon fat. Jessica walked around smelling like milk, but she didn’t care, because her skin was finally soothed.

When Jessica’s own daughter was 6 months old, she started exhibiting signs of eczema. Her skin condition was so bad that a doctor recommended steroids. Rather than put her daughter through the same painful experience that she dealt with, Jessica took a leaf out of grandma’s book and began looking into natural soaps. However, ordering good soaps online just wasn’t the same as those awesomely handmade soaps that Jessica grew up using. She decided she wanted to make her own soaps. 7 years later, Jessica has become an expert on lye, skin care, and making everything smell amazing.p1040657The name Bella Lina is a combination of the names of Jessica’s daughters, Izabella and Angelina. What started out as something for her family has turned into a favorite Jacksonville small business. The weird thing is, Jessica wasn’t always planning on selling. She unintentionally got a wide fan base before she’d even considered sharing her products with people outside her family. “Friends would come over and take stuff from my soap closet,” she said with a laugh. That’s when she realized, Hey, why not try selling this stuff? Her first time selling was on Etsy, where she quickly became a 5-star reviewed shop. Jessica did farmers markets around Orlando before she finally moved to Jacksonville a few years ago. The city’s definitely got a keeper, because Jessica never wants to leave. “Jacksonville is the first place that I’ve embraced and that’s embraced me,” she said. She’s grateful to RAM, and says that the arts market has made Bella Lina the successful company that it is now. Besides RAM, Jessica loves sunshine and the beach and swears she’s part mermaid, hence the mermaid on her logo. She’s also a fan of 5 Points, where she feels that she can be herself, turquoise hair and all.

Jessica is all about natural products, so the ingredients she uses are safe enough for sensitive skin, free of formaldehyde and sketchy preservatives. She’s got you covered with shampoos, body butter, and even insect repellent during the summer. I’ve tried her soaps, lotion, sugar scrubs, and bath bombs, and can attest to their wonderfulness. The soaps are creamy and moisturizing. They lather really well, so the soap will last forever. The emulsified sugar scrub was surprisingly soft. I was expecting it to be hard and gritty, but it was squishy enough to be a pillow. Seriously. I got excited with the bath bomb and used the whole thing, though it’s big enough to last for a couple uses. It turned the water bright blue and made the whole top floor of my house smell amazing. I was worried that there would be a blue ring in the rub, but there was no lingering color. Plus, it left my skin super soft.p1040651p1040634p1040660Her favorite part about this job is that it gives her the opportunity to be with her family. After all, she started doing all of this for her kids, who love that their mom is part-time mermaid, full-time chemist in her secret lab. Jessica takes her work seriously and doesn’t let anyone enter her mermaid den without a hairnet. She spends a good portion of her time making her products. Getting ready is the longest part, taking up a good 4-5 hours. Her favorite part about making her products is designing them. Jessica doesn’t believe in boring soap, but instead tries to make each thing she creates unique and pretty. She definitely does a good job. I mean, my Monkey Farts soap has swirls and glitter. It doesn’t get much better than that.

It’s one thing to buy natural and effective products, and another thing to buy them from someone who is the sweetest, most cheerful person around. Jessica is as bright as her soaps. Her ultimate goal isn’t making money, it’s making people happy and clean. She loves everyone, and she’s pretty loved in return. If you don’t believe me, visit her yourself. Find her around RAM, and maybe at Brew and Saltologie, where she sells her products. Be sure to sign up for her monthly mailer to get tips on healthy and safe skin care.

Thanks, Bella Lina, for making Jacksonville a cleaner, brighter place.p1040643

Vagabond: A Visual Journey

We’ve talked about Vagabond again and again, but we’re not too afraid to admit that we’re mildly obsessed with this coffee place. We won’t beat you over the head with more details about it; instead, we’ll just post lots of lovely photos that should encourage you (force you) to want to go there. If the photography skills of Stefanie Keeler don’t convince you, you’re just crazy. So, without further ado, we hope you enjoy this visual journey into the world of local coffee, cool people, and dang good decorating skills.vagabond-5188vagabond-5190vagabond-5148vagabond-5163 vagabond-5153  vagabond-5198vagabond-5204vagabond-5169 vagabond-5179   vagabond-5224vagabond-5213vagabond-5194     vagabond-5267vagabond-5227 vagabond-5286vagabond-5235 vagabond-5254 vagabond-5158vagabond-5261

Guanabana Artisan Ice Pops

I was one of those kids who had an evil mom. You know, the mom who won’t let you eat junk food because she cares about your health. While I watched my friends rip into their fruit roll-ups, Pringles, pudding, and Gushers (which, in hindsight, are really weird and gross), I sadly unwrapped my peanut butter sandwich and wished my apple was a green apple Jolly Rancher. This junk food deprivation (otherwise known as “eating real food”) meant that I had to wait for college before I could eat as unhealthily as I liked. Then I realized that I wasn’t missing out on much. The thing is, eating garbage isn’t all that tasty when your taste buds get accustomed to eating food the way it’s supposed to be eaten. Julieta Mosqueda, co-owner of Guanabana Artisan Ice Pops, had the same realization when she herself became a mom. She and Oliver, her husband, decided that people should be able to have their cake and eat it, too. In other words, the Mosquedas wanted to make unhealthy treats healthy, and make them taste even more tempting than a stick of food dye and high fructose corn syrup.IMG_9668fOriginally from Colombia, Julieta studied English in Kansas City and planned on entering the nursing program. Meanwhile, Oliver, who was born in Venezuela, worked in the food industry. After 20 years of working in restaurants, Oliver was pretty sure he wanted to keep working with food. They eventually moved to Jacksonville around 2005 and decided they were in a city where they could raise their family.

The leap to popsicle seemed pretty big to me, so I asked Julieta what made her start thinking about making pops. Ultimately, it came down to a desire to give her children healthy treats. “In Colombia, popsicles are 100% fruit,” she said. “There are no artificial colors or sugars. That’s what we’re used to.” She was surprised, and a bit freaked out, at the ingredients of store-bought pops–particularly the stark lack of fruit in many of them. Julieta and Oliver decided they were going to try making pops for themselves and see what happened.

In the beginning, the recipes were a combination of their favorite flavors. “We just started mixing things,” Julieta said. With 3 children eager to eat pops every day, Julieta and Oliver had their fair share of honest tasters. Once they had some decent pops, Julieta and Oliver began giving them to friends and family to get even more input. This helped the Mosquedas learn the beloved American flavors, like chocolate, peanut butter, and green tea. Guanabana Pops has the Latin flavors that Julieta and Oliver are used to, but they’ve since added more American flavors, as well as vegan pops for those who don’t want milk. Last time we spoke, Guanabana had over 40 flavors, but I’m sure their list has grown since then. No matter the flavor, though, you can bet that the pops are exactly what they say they are. Order a mango pop and you’re going to get fresh mango, and that’s about it.V__5605IMG_9493fAfter Julieta and Oliver were confident that their pops tasted good, they began selling. Guanabana started in December of 2013 in smaller settings. Oliver first sold out of the famous lime-green bicycle in June of 2014, after months of sanding and polishing in the garage. By August, Guanabana was selling at RAM and Jaxsons Night market. Now, you can find a Guanabana freezer in the Magnificat Cafe downtown, Tres Leches, Antojitos Colombianos in Baymeadows, the Conscious Eats stand at farmers markets, and Hola Cuban Cafe in Fernandina. Julieta and Oliver are up for selling anywhere, at any time. Birthday parties, weddings, festivals–you name it, they’ll want to share their pops there. They are hoping to eventually make it into natural grocery stores, like Whole Foods or Earth Fare.

Julieta and Oliver are all about supporting locals, which is why they get their fruits from farmers markets and farms around the area. Some exotic fruits, like the famous guanabana, come straight from South America so that Oliver and Julieta can bring the flavors of their childhood right to Jax. Currently, Julieta’s favorite pop is the moraberry, and I think I might agree with her. The pop is a beautiful reddish-pink, with a sweet and tart flavor similar to blackberries. Oliver loves the coconut pop, which reminds him of the fruits he grew up eating.guyabana-0028guyabana-0025guyabana-0053guyabana-0034guyabana-0057guyabana-0013Julieta’s favorite part about making pops is tasting the finished product. She thinks trying the pops for the first time is exciting. “It’s so different after you freeze it, as opposed to tasting the mix,” she said. As far as Jacksonville, Julieta loves the small businesses that she sees everywhere. Before Guanabana started, she didn’t know much about downtown or the quainter areas of Jax. Now, she’s a huge food truckie, and would like to have one eventually.

It’s exciting to me that eating healthy can taste so good. I’m even more excited that it’s okay for me to still eat popsicles as an adult. Guanabana has helped me realize that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy delicious, fruity, sweet, and healthy popsicles. Guanabana ensures that, no matter your age or taste preference, you’re going to find something deliciously healthy to keep you cool on those summer days. If you’re thinking, “Hey, it’s fall now,” just remember that we live in Jacksonville, where there is no such thing as fall or winter. So when it’s Christmas Eve and you’re in a t-shirt and shorts, you can probably find Oliver riding around town on a bright green bike. Be sure to flag him down to try a pop that even my mom would approve of.guyabana-0066

SITC-Written By Rebecca

Unity Plaza // Riverside

Concerts, seminars, new restaurants, oh my! The long awaited Unity Plaza had its opening ceremony on Tuesday, and we’re pretty confident that the new space in Brooklyn Station is going to deliver on its many promises to the community. What was once a retention pond on Riverside Ave will now be “a non-profit urban park, created to uplift, educate, entertain, and electrify our community,” according to the plaza’s mission. The plaza’s three pillars, Wellness, Community, and Performing Arts, are designed to provide the neighborhood with another interactive and cultural space, similar to the way that Hemming Park interacts with downtown Jax.  Unity Plaza’s construction is nearing completion, with finishing touches going on at both HOBNOB and Sbraga & Co, two of Jacksonville’s most anticipated new restaurants which will be opening this fall.

Besides these fanatic restaurants, we are very excited about the new on-site WJXT studio. Say what?? On October 26  at 11 am, River City Live, a brand new show about Jax events, people and places, will officially air from Unity Plaza. We can’t wait to catch the first episode! Be sure to tune in!Unity Plaza (26) Unity Plaza (35) Unity Plaza (44) Unity Plaza (46)Unity Plaza (54)The amphitheater park will feature outdoor restaurants and a fixed space for performances. Jason Faulkner, architect of Studio9, spoke about his inspiration behind creating a landmark of Jacksonville out of a retention pond.  “This is the beginning of so much more than a blank canvas,” he said. “It’s about creating a legacy.” Unity Plaza is definitely a legacy that we are excited to witness.Unity Plaza (69) Unity Plaza (76)One of the things we love the most about Unity Plaza is that it’s a non-profit. Executive Director Jen Jones has said, “We are not just a non-profit; we are a partner for non-profits.” The idea is to unite the Jacksonville community at this park, which already has a billion events lined up, including the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra on October 2 at 8pm, a National Beer Mile Run on November 14, and UP Winter Wonderland starting December 26. Feeling bored on a Friday night? Chances are, Unity Plaza will have something you’ll enjoy.

We loved seeing Flagship Romance perform after the ribbon cutting! They sounded wonderful, and it was great to see some Somewhere in the City friends at such a historical event for Jacksonville.Unity Plaza (80)Somewhere in the City is always looking for new people to meet. We’re confident we’ll be meeting a ton of interesting locals at Unity Plaza. We hope to catch you there!

Eco Relics // Riverside

What happens when a love for architecture and a love for the environment meet together in Jacksonville? A 50,000 square ft, fully renovated train depot–otherwise known as Eco Relics, the place where Jacksonvillians can find just about anything. This giant, never-ending building is possible thanks to Michael and Annie Murphy. Michael, who had previously worked as a stock broker, had always loved architecture and remodeling. Annie had a background in computer software, and hated the idea of things going to waste. They put their two desires together and came up with the idea for a store that sold recycled materials, which could then be repurposed and refinished by creative customers.

Originally attracted to Jacksonville’s real estate potential, the Murphys moved from Asheville with the hopes of finding cool, old stuff in Florida. When they didn’t, they decided to hunt for themselves. Their motto? “Nothing goes in the dumpster.” Annie’s green mindset spurred the Murphys to start looking in places others might not think to look. And I don’t necessarily mean dumpster-diving. Michael and Annie explore estate sales and reconstructed houses. They also rely on the latest “Hey, we found something old you guys might like” text from their friends.ecorelics-6762After searching all over Jax for a large enough space that didn’t require an insane amount of work, the Murphys stumbled upon the old freight depot on Stockton. When they saw it, they fell in love. (And who wouldn’t? The place is amazing.) After a year of renovations, Eco Relics opened in 2014, and is home to thousands of materials just waiting to be repurposed. Reusing, recycling, and repurposing are the three missions of Eco Relics. The store has everything from planks of wood, to toilets, to windows, to church pews, to canoes. It’s an eclectic collection that isn’t prejudiced against anyone’s decorative taste.

SitC’s new photographer, Stefanie, joined me as we explored Eco Relics and took in its vastness. Stefanie came in to take pictures, but she left with a rug she’d been searching for! See if you can spot the rug in one of her photos below.ecorelics-6618ecorelics-6628ecorelics-6613ecorelics-6617ecorelics-6695(2)ecorelics-6644     ecorelics-6694ecorelics-6661ecorelics-6670ecorelics-6652ecorelics-6698ecorelics-6667ecorelics-6684ecorelics-6689Eco Relics wouldn’t be what it is without the help of its creative team. Designer Natalie Canty, who has fun creating vignettes around Eco Relics, has advice for those who walk into the store, scream, and then walk back out. “Just take it all in,” Natalie encourages, acknowledging how the warehouse can be overwhelming at first. “Put all your projects aside and only think about the feasible ones. Then, go home and regroup.” She gives this advice based on her own personal experiences. “I see projects everywhere here,” she admits, though she’s learned to hone in on the projects she feels she can confidently accomplish.

Media man Nate Price says his favorite part of working for Eco Relics is getting people into projects. He loves the thrill of seeing the cogs churn in someone’s mind as a formerly confusing idea turns into a solid and achievable plan.

Billy Leeka, in-house artist, has been in the business of building furniture since high school. He is currently working on turning an old dresser into a sink. (Say what?) Each new project is a challenge he can’t wait to complete. His repurposing is a self-proclaimed narcissistic process. “I get to be in people’s homes,” he says. “The furniture is part of me.” Does Billy have a favorite piece? Nope, because that would be like choosing a favorite kid.

Of course, we can’t forget to mention one of Eco Relics’ most prominent team members: Eco the cat, who appeared at the store when it opened, and hasn’t left since. Don’t worry, he’s as friendly as he is fluffy.ecorelics-6724ecorelics-6726ecorelics-6732(2)  ecorelics-6776ecorelics-6758Originally, Eco Relics was a place for customers to search for projects. Lately, the warehouse has taken on a more creative objective. After repeatedly hearing, “Can you make this for me?” from customers, Michael and Annie realized they needed to start taking requests. Now, Jacksonvillians can consult with Eco Relics’ creative team and have something custom-built. The Murphys are taking this a step further, and plan on opening a workshop in the section of the building that faces Stockton. The eventual goal is to teach workshop classes, and to hopefully get into some local schools. Eco Relics’ new workshop will be closed in with a fence that gives Stockton passersby a view of the workers as they use their magic to create the next rustic toilet-turned-chair. (Anything’s possible!) This open view is on par with the Murphy’s desire to build a community in Jacksonville. Already they have created relationships with interior decorators, who come into the store to build sets with Eco Relics’ materials. Eco Relics has hosted live bands and Jacksonville’s Conscious Eats, and they hope to host more.ecorelics-6752

Michael and Annie have made a dent in Riverside. Their hope is to continue the revitalization of Stockton, and to teach Jacksonvillians that nothing needs to be thrown away. They’ve fallen in love with our city, and think it’s the perfect place for their desires. “Jacksonville is ready for the green scene,” Annie says. Her favorite things about Jacksonville? The water access and the bridges.

Getting married? Eco Relics has hosted engagement and wedding shoots! Explore Eco Relics’ websiteFacebook, and Instagram if a warehouse-themed photo shoot is up your ally.

If you find yourself stepping into Eco Relics and feeling overwhelmed, do as Natalie suggested, and just take it all in, go home, and regroup. Then, repurpose.

SITC-Written By Rebecca

Introducing Contributing Photographer Stefanie Keeler

We are super excited to introduce this lovely lady to the world! Photography has always been half of what makes Somewhere in the City the blog that it is. Lately, what with jobs and life in general, it’s been a challenge for us to find a consistent photographer. We found Stefanie Keeler through our mutual friend and SitC photographer, Amanda Lenhardt. Stefanie often second shoots for Amanda, so we knew that any pal of Amanda is a pal of ours!

Stefanie is currently attending JU, where she is studying photography. She picked up a camera her senior year of high school, and hasn’t stopped shooting yet. She loves photographing people the most, because, in her words, “There is so much life in people.”

Stay tuned for Stefanie’s first SitC piece, coming up next week! In the meantime, explore her beautiful photography at her website and Instagram.

Welcome to the team, Stefanie!headshot-6795

Harris Meadery // Orange Park

What is mead, you ask? Allow me to elaborate.

1. Honey.

2. Yeast.

3. Water.

4. That’s about it.

Of course, you can’t just throw those three ingredients into a cauldron and hope it turns into mead. You have to brew it, which is a process that can result in some pretty nasty stuff, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Fortunately, John Harris of Harris Meadery knows exactly what he’s doing.

It all started in 1991 with John’s dissatisfaction with the beer available to him. He was attending Coker College in South Carolina, and didn’t like what his friends were drinking. He also didn’t like paying for cheap beer. Seeing a problem and knowing the solution, John decided to brew his own beer. His first beer-brewing adventure was a Foster’s Lager clone, which took him three weeks to brew. Sadly, John didn’t even get to taste his first beer. He left his brew in the care of his roommate, who drank the entire batch. Apparently, it tasted good.

John, who has a degree in Psychology with a minor in Computer Science, first heard of mead through J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings. He was attracted to this beverage that dates back to 8000 B.C., and intrigued by its almost universal presence throughout Germanic, African, Asian, and Slavic traditions. If you’ve ever read The Odyssey (or, admit it, the SparkNotes version of it), you may remember reading about the nectar of the gods, or ambrosia. Ambrosia, the ancient beverage of the gods, is believed to have been mead. That’s right: Zeus himself drank it. After learning about the world’s oldest fermentable drink, John decided to start making mead, which he has continued doing since the early 2000s.

With a nation-wide mead production growth of approximately 130% in 2014 (according to the American Mead Maker’s Association), John knows that now is the time to brew, and Jacksonville is the place. He moved to Jax just as craft brewing started to take off in 2007. He’s found that it’s surprisingly easy to introduce people to mead. John isn’t shy about talking about brewing, and tries to absorb as much learning experience as he can. When Kelly and Jamie of  Alewife put out word about opening their tasting room, John submitted his resume, and has been working at Alewife since it opened. During his time at Alewife, he has gained knowledge about serving beer and dealing with distributors–learning which distributors are doing what they should or shouldn’t do. John has also learned more about what it takes to make mead in a larger capacity. Currently, John is brewing in 20-gallon batches in his home. He is searching Clay and Duval for a brick and mortar so that he has more space to brew. In the meantime, he’s planning to acquire a manufacturer’s license, which would give him the ability to produce his meads for commercial and retail markets. That means he could start selling his mead. While he is Cicerone Certified, he isn’t yet able to sell. Fortunately, he’s searching hard for a space so that Jacksonville can be the city that reintroduces the world to mead.

To allay any doubts about Harris Meadery, I’ll go ahead and say that John’s mead medaled at Meadllennium, the oldest mead competition in the U.S. Harris Meadery won gold in their division for the Cherry Raspberry Current mead, and bronze for the Key Lime Pie. He was invited to this year’s Gastrofest and won the judge’s choice award for his Key Lime Pie mead. I didn’t get to try John’s famous Key Lime mead, but I did try his barrel-aged peach mead with first crop peaches from here in Florida. The drink was smooth and fresh, perfectly accessible for those who normally go for the sweeter drinks. It’s a bit of a dangerous drink, as it tastes too good for just one bottle. DSC_0037DSC_0021 DSC_0030The great thing about mead is that it’s made of honey, which is naturally antioxidant and antiviral. That means mead isn’t going to harbor any scary stuff if it sits for awhile. John’s mead is unfiltered and unpasteurized, with 100% organic ingredients and raw honey. While John enjoys the clean, neutral flavors of traditional mead (just water and honey), he also makes flavored meads using fresh fruit, sourcing locally when he can. Some things, like vanilla bean, John hasn’t been able to find locally. If you know of a local vanilla bean farmer, let him know!

John says that he’s always tweaking his recipes, right up to the date that he bottles. Currently, his biggest critic is his wife, who supports his mead production and is wonderfully honest, telling him whether she loves or hates his mead. It took him a few years to perfect his brewing process. The biggest mistake he’s made was not hydrating a whiskey barrel. When he tried to barrel-age his mead, he forgot to float the whiskey barrel in sanitized water to make the staves swell. When he poured his mead into the dry barrel, it sprung a leak and dumped his mead everywhere. If you’re looking to start making mead and want a word of advice, take it from this pro who has learned how to bounce back from his mistakes. “Just do it,” John says. “Go and get yourself 3 pounds of honey, a gallon of water, and a 5 gram packet of your favorite wine yeast.” (He recommends a chardonnay yeast.) “If the mead ends up tasting like rocket fuel, that’s normal. Just let it age. It’ll get better.” Like most brews, mead gets better with age. John says at least 9 months per brew, if not a year.

John’s got a new love for Jacksonville. His favorites are the climate, the beach, and the people. He thinks Jacksonville is a good city for growth and expansion; he’d love to see the revitalization of downtown continue. While it’s hard for him to choose favorite restaurants, his tops are Moxie, Kickbacks, Orsay, and Bluefish, where he and his wife go every year for their anniversary.

If you’re wondering how to get John’s mead, sign up for Harris Meadery’s social media and keep a lookout for some free giveaways. John is always updating the Facebook page, as well as his website. He’s hoping to have a brick and mortar come 2016, and plans to start selling then. Eventually, Kelly and Jamie of Alewife are hoping to carry Harris Mead, as are Steve Halford of Pinglehead and Warren Freyfield of Beer 30.

John Harris isn’t reinventing the wheel; he’s perfecting the drink that has been around for thousands of years. I love that his mead is healthy, with local and organic ingredients. His mead is versatile and can be appreciated by beer and wine haters alike–it’s just that good. I can’t wait for Harris Meadery to become Jacksonville’s ambrosia.

Written By Rebecca