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Lakeland farmer travels 70 miles to set up drive-thru market for Seminole church

Lewis King's Oponay Farms U-Pick operation was shut down by COVID-19. So, he took his food two counties away to a church congregation who really wanted it.

SEMINOLE, Fla. — For over a month, Lewis King has been showing up, without fail, at a church nearly 70 miles from his home. He pulls his large semi-truck into the parking lot of Seminole United Methodist Church around noon with a truckload full of fresh fruits and veggies for people he barely knows.

“It takes a drive to do it,” said the veteran Polk County farmer. “You know what the best part is when you see them the second time.”

The drive is worth it for King, who owns and operates Oponay Farms, which is nearly 90 minutes from Seminole UMC. He was asked by the church staff to come over once per week to offer its aging congregation the chance to get fresh fruits and veggies in a drive-thru style outdoor market. Many of the residents don’t have access to fresh food very easily.

“I thought I’d give it a try,” said Marjorie Weltner, who was first in line Wednesday morning. “If I get more than what I need I’ll share with a couple of my neighbors.”

The drive-thru market is a win-win for both congregation and farmer. King can’t operate his U-Pick business during COVID-19 restrictions. He’d done that for six seasons. The market brings in some money and delivers a vital service to dozens of people.

“We order all our food online so we don’t get to pick out anything that’s fresh,” said Jim McQuiston, who attends Seminole UMC and came to the market for the first time.

Customers in cars fill out an order form and hand it to one of King’s staff. The order is filled and another worker hands the food through the drive-thru window. It runs efficiently. As many as 200 people are served every Wednesday from noon to 6 p.m.

“It’s a blessing. More than a band-aid,” said King.

Foods available include a variety of berries, potatoes, eggplants, beans, and more. The corn is sourced from Georgia. The rest is all from Florida.

The drive-thru market is hosted by Seminole United Methodist Church, located at 5400 Seminole Blvd. in Seminole every Wednesday from noon to 6 p.m.

Credit: Bobby Lewis
Credit: Bobby Lewis

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