I love The Villages and all it has to offer, but every once in a while, I’ll call up a friend to share in a day of discovery. I’ll put the top down on my convertible, pin my hair up, throw on my sunglasses, toss a cooler with water and snacks in the back seat and off we’ll go. Oftentimes, there isn’t any specific plan or destination. We’ll decide to “go north” or “head west to the ocean.”
One such day, my friend Vickie Heren and I decided to begin our adventure by going north on Route 301. After about an hour’s drive and several turns on roads we had never been on, we saw a rustic sign that read, “Crones Cradle Conserve.” Curious, we drove down a long, dirt road that dead-ended in a grass parking lot.
I hail from a small town in the beautiful, green mountains of Vermont, and I jump at the chance to visit any place that reminds me of home. This place reminded me of home. There was something you just sensed about the place — a sense of peace — a sense of natural order — and most importantly, a sense of dedication, respect and heartfelt stewardship for the land.
Crones Cradle Conserve is a nonprofit preserve of more than 750 acres of land located in the small town of Citra, 35 miles southeast of Gainesville and a little more than an hour from The Villages. It’s an ecological preserve and education center where many of its acres are lovingly and steadily being returned to its natural habitat. There’s an organic farm, a rustic retreat facility, walking trails and a gift shop that carries a variety of homegrown and handmade products.
Vickie and I chanced upon the chief gardener who encouraged us to wander around. We walked a trail that skirted around huge, old cypress trees, and we found little nooks and crannies hidden along dirt paths in the woods that beckoned us to quietly enjoy all Mother Nature had to offer. Partially shrouded amongst the trees, we found what I’m calling a long house that’s a multipurpose building available for seminars and workshops and can be converted into sleeping quarters for overnight events.
We found a rustic cottage that sleeps about 10 people. No radio, television or Wi-Fi here, but who would want it when surrounded by Mother Nature in all her glory? We found a one-room writer’s cottage, a crafts building and a kitchen facility that can serve up to 50 people.
The organic farm raises chickens and a variety of in-season vegetables that are sold to the public, and if you’re lucky enough to live nearby, you can arrange a weekly basket of organically grown goodies.
Jeri Baldwin is the co-founder and manager of Crones Cradle Conserve, and according to her, Crones Cradle Conserve is “an ongoing demonstration project, exemplifying how a business can care for the land, create community and connect people with quality food sources and educational materials in a smooth, seamless stream.”
I was so impressed with the place I returned the following weekend for a “spring gala.” Twice a year, Crones Cradle hosts a gala with live music, old-time demonstrations, seminars and a food tent that offers dishes prepared with ingredients raised on-site and at neighboring farms.
I’ve attended their monthly women’s brunch where a variety of subjects pertinent to women are discussed while enjoying a delicious, late-morning fare.
I love this place and invite you to take an afternoon off from the hustle and bustle of The Villages and visit Jeri and her staff. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information on events and schedules, visit their website at www.cronescradleconserve.org.