June 2011 Travel Writers Press Trip, Day 1, Madison County FL

Our first day started in Gainesville.  Bloggers Tommy Thompson and Susannah Watson loaded up the Visit Natural North Florida van and headed to Gilchrist County with Bryan Thomas, VNNF Director.  In Trenton, we picked up Donna Creamer, Chair of The Original Florida Tourism Task Force.

We arrived in Madison just in time to meet up with Doc Lawrence, writer from Atlanta, and Nancy Wideman, Director of the Jefferson County Tourism Development Council.  Our host was Cindy Vees of the Madison Chamber of Commerce.  Lunch was a buffet-style event at O’Neal’s on US90, west of town.  This $7.50 (which included tax and drink!) feast included chicken fingers, fried green tomatoes, sweet-milk biscuits and a host of other southern delights.  The chicken and tomatoes deserved double gold Sunday-school stars!  Fabulous!!!

O'Neals Restaurant, Madison, FL
O'Neals Country Buffet, Madison is known far and wide for its fried green tomatoes.

From O’Neals, we went to the farm of Jay and Donna Fraleigh.  Jay’s family has been in the nursery business for many generations.  When the economic downturn hit the housing market and the need for shrubbery and ornamental plants slowed, Jay and Donna changed the course of their business to vegetables.  Now, using a patented irrigation system, their shade-grown vegetables are to be found in major supermarkets, including Whole Foods.

Fraleigh Nurseries, Madison, FL
Fraleigh Nurseries now grows tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables using special irrigation techniques.

After leaving Jay and Donna’s the group went to Browning’s Bea-Sweet watermelon operation.  Here, thousands of pounds of seedless watermelons are shipped daily to all corners of the U.S.

Browning's Bea-Sweet Melons
Watermelon packing is hard, hot work, but Bea-Sweet takes pride in their excellent products.

The group finally retreated to the comfort (it was 100 degrees out today!) of the Unity House B&B and the Manor House in downtown Madison.  A delicious southern dinner of fried chicken (twice in one day!–that’s OK!), salad, fresh pole beans and sweet ‘taters ended the culinary part of the day.

Manor House, Madison, FL
The Manor House is known far and wide for its comfortable suites. These apartments are available for rental by the day, the month--or the year!
Unity House B&B, Madison FL
The Unity House Bed & Breakfast is located in a historic home, right in downtown Madison, FL.

Following dinner, a great talk about the history of Madison was given by two local historians.  Everyone learned that there’s much more to see here in Madison than meets the eye, and we’re all planning to return soon!  And hope you will too!

Read about Day 2, ‘on the road’.

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