HIGH SPRINGS ‒ It may be BBQ like you’ve never had before and its coming to High Springs. Bobby and Crystal Gay have been involved with competition Bar-B-Q for a long time and have placed or won many contests including across the Southeast, from the Big Pig Jig in Georgia to the Jimmy Jam BBQ Slam in Florida. They were also featured on the Food Network's BBQ USA show.

Burnt out in the corporate world and eager to find a business to match their passion for BBQ, inspiration struck during a lunch break when Crystal Gay called her husband and suggested they should open their own barbecue business.

In November 2022 Bobby and Crystal purchased a three-acre plot with a 3,100-sq-ft building in High Springs on Highway 441 near Bev's Burgers toward Alachua. Naming their business Sweet Meats BBQ, the couple set out to share their expertise with the public and provide a high-quality butcher shop.

Crystal says they were surprised to find there were no butcher shops or BBQ supply stores in the area, and although they live in Gainesville, property values were too high to buy property there.

“We didn’t want to rent in case a landlord changed the rent or ownership since we wanted to establish a permanent business where we had control and the ability to expand,” said Crystal. “So, we looked at other locations in the area.” Crystal says they both fell in love with High Springs and its small-town feel.

Coming from a small town in Georgia, Bobby is a firm believer that BBQ is a great way to bring people together. “We wanted to keep a family feel to our shop” he said. “Our business will be more than just a butcher shop, we will be a barbecue supply store, smoker manufacturing company with a variety of smokers, including one with a built-in sound system for backyard parties and catering company.

Sweet Meats BBQ will also be offering BBQ cooking classes from some of the most renowned experts in competition class styles and has been approved by the City of High Springs to build a pole barn to hold cook-outs, events and concerts as well.

“We want to be a destination point for everything BBQ for the community and a place to gather as well,” said Bobby. “We plan to expand our services over the next year to include whole hog cooking on a brick pit doing old-school style.”

While the store will focus on the full-service butcher portion of the business, Bobby and Gay want to make it a community gathering spot as well with events, concerts and, of course, food and cookouts.

The butcher shop will offer a wide variety of high-quality competition and commercial meats, including pork, beef, ribs, chicken, lamb and Wagyu beef.

“We will offer better quality custom cut meats at a lower price than supermarkets,” said Bobby. “We want people to be able to customize their order in any way they want.”

Sweet Meats will also offer cooked meats and BBQ for takeout and a catering service for delivery. The classes will offer lessons on BBQ cooking and education on cooking styles and what meats are best for each style. Bobby says they want to help customers increase their skill level of grilling no matter where they start out.

Sweet Meats is planning a grand opening on Friday, Sept. 1 from noon to 5 p.m. Regular store hours will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. More information and takeout or catering can be done by phone at 352-474-3040.

“We want to make this site a one stop location for all things BBQ and provide a place for the community to gather and have a good time,” said Bobby. “BBQ is an American tradition that brings family and friends together.”

#     #     #

Email rcarson@


Add a comment

By JENNIFER CABRERA/Alachua Chronicle

GAINESVILLE ‒ Eric Levon West, 35, of Archer, was arrested on Friday, Aug. 25, and charged with two counts of human trafficking of a minor, two counts of traveling to meet a minor for unlawful sexual contact, two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and possession of marijuana with intent to sell after allegedly picking up two 16-year-old girls and giving them marijuana in exchange for sex.

On Feb. 11, 2023, West was driving behind an RTS bus when he saw the two girls get off and offered to give them marijuana. One of the girls gave West her phone number so he could contact them when he had the marijuana. West allegedly contacted the girl later and arranged to meet both girls to provide the marijuana. The girls said they got into his truck when he arrived and one of the girls said she heard him say he was “gonna want something” in exchange for the marijuana. Both girls told Gainesville Police Department officers that they told him they were 16 years old.

West reportedly drove the girls to a gas station on Tower Road and bought the girls some chips and soda. He then drove to the parking lot of the Home Depot on Northwest 4th Boulevard, where he moved one of the seats in the truck to make more room in the back seat. He reportedly got into the back seat with both girls.

The victims told officers that West took off his shoes, pants and underwear, and one of the victims performed oral sex on him. Then West allegedly told the other victim it was her “turn” and had intercourse with her.

The victims said that before leaving the parking lot, West told them he would take them to a hotel the next time. He allegedly gave each girl “a nominal amount” of marijuana and took them back to the area where he had picked them up.

The victims were able to provide a description of the man and the truck, and officers used the phone number that he had given to one of the victims to identify the man as West. West is also the registered owner of a truck matching the description provided by the victims.

Cell phone records reportedly show communications between West and one of the victims on Feb. 11 and location information from West’s phone reportedly shows him in the area where the victims were picked up, at the gas station, in the Home Depot parking lot and back to the area where the victims were dropped off.

Detectives reportedly made contact with West on Aug. 24 and 25 on the victim’s phone, pretending to be the girl. During the exchange, West allegedly asked the victim about her friend and said he had some good marijuana for them and had a “spot on 20th [Ave] where we can go” after the victim asked if they were going to have sex in the truck “again” or go to a hotel. In response to a question about what else he would give the victims in addition to marijuana, West allegedly replied, “$.” West reportedly agreed to meet the victims at a gas station on Southwest 20th Avenue at 6 p.m. on Aug. 25.

West allegedly texted the victim several times to let her know he was on his way. The victim asked him to pick up a Sprite for her.

West was arrested as he came out of the gas station. A search of his truck reportedly produced a Sprite that had just been purchased at the gas station, two unused condoms and 20 grams of marijuana.

Post Miranda, West reportedly said he first saw the girls when they got off a bus and he exchanged numbers with one of them. He reportedly confessed to picking up both girls, taking them to the gas station near Home Depot and buying chips and sodas for them. He reportedly admitted to moving the seat to make more room in the back seat but said he just smoked marijuana and talked to the girls and did not have sex with them.

West reportedly told officers that he does not use condoms when he has intercourse with his wife and could not explain why he had two condoms with him after texting one victim that he wanted “both of y’all”; he reportedly said he was just referring to hanging out with the victims.

West has a felony conviction for child neglect and seven misdemeanor convictions, including a hit and run and marijuana possession.

#     #     #

Email editor@


Add a comment

ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - The Alachua County Barr Hammock Preserve Levy Loop Trail (14920 S.E. 11th Drive, Micanopy) is temporarily closed for habitat restoration activities. The trail is closed beginning today, Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Depending on weather, the closure is expected to remain in effect through Wednesday, September 13. During this time, invasive plant management activities will occur on approximately 120 acres of the prairie. Trail closure was identified as the best way to protect public safety during the habitat restoration activities.   
For visitor safety, the public is expected to observe all closure signs. Unauthorized persons may be cited for trespass. When work is completed, the County will remove the closure signs and advise the public that the trail is open again.
The Barr Hammock- South trailhead (300 S.E. 175th Avenue, Micanopy) remains open with 20 miles of trails for pedestrians, equestrians, and bicycles.
The nearly 6,000-acre Barr Hammock Preserve is actively managed through the Alachua County Forever Program, the voter-approved initiative to acquire, improve, and manage environmentally sensitive lands to protect water resources, wildlife habitat, and natural areas suitable for resource-based recreation. The referendum was first passed in November 2000. It was funded again by the voters in 2008, 2016, and 2022 with the Wild Spaces and Public Places Referendum.

#     #     #

Email editor@


Add a comment


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – During its regular meeting on Aug. 22, 2023, the Alachua County Commission voted to stop working toward a controversial meat processing facility in Newberry, with Commissioner Chuck Chestnut saying he wouldn’t vote to put any County facilities in Newberry “because why would we put County resources into a city that wants a new county, a Springs County?”

RFP for a developer-operator for the facility

The agenda item, which asked the board to approve a Scope of Work so staff could issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a developer-operator for the proposed meat processing facility, went off topic almost immediately when Commissioner Ken Cornell objected to updates on a soil analysis report and the proposed solid waste facility at the same site “because those things are separate.” Cornell also objected to the Scope of Work referring to a “developer-operator” because “this board has never had a discussion about a developer-operator; we have always only ever had a discussion about an RFP for an operator.”

County Manager Michele Lieberman said the facility has always been discussed as being similar to the Sports Event Center, which was built and operated by a third party with County funds. 

Cornell said he had thought the County was putting up $2.5 million, along with $2.5 million from the State, and would then build it and put out an RFP for an operator: “The State said, ‘You can’t have the money,’ and I thought that was our off-ramp, we’re done. But no… I don’t even understand why we’re talking about it.”

Chair Anna Prizzia said the RFP is to look for “a partner to bring forward the remaining money that would be necessary to build this project and to collaborate with us on building and operating this project… I feel like you’re trying to make it sound like there’s something that was done that was sneaky… and I don’t see that sneakiness in here; I see them bringing forward a Scope of Work for us to talk about, and we’re talking about it today.”

No contamination at the site

Environmental Protection Department Director Steve Hofstetter told the board that soil samples taken in July at the proposed site for the three County facilities (fire training facility, solid waste facility, and meat processing facility) found no pesticide constituent concentrations above soil or groundwater clean-up target levels. The site hosted a crop dusting business in the past, so there have been concerns about whether the site is still contaminated. 

Solid Waste Director Gus Olmos said his department has been working with the City of Newberry on the location of the solid waste processing facility “and also looking at potential alternatives, if necessary.”

Cornell asked whether they have a Plan B, and Olmos said, “This is Plan B. We’re on Plan C right now.” Cornell said, “I think it’s really difficult for us to even talk about this if we can’t meet with the City of Newberry, and they don’t want to meet. Well, they don’t want to meet about the meat processing facility; I don’t know if they want to meet about this. So I’m interested in pursuing Plan C.”

I’m not trying to kill the meat processing plant, but I will kill it if it goes to Newberry”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said, “I do not support anything going to Newberry… because of what I’ve been reading in the paper and what I’ve been seeing on the news. I don’t like it. I thought that we came in good faith to talk to them about a meat processing plant. What occurred was, there was a talk about a County Road 337. And it’s like… it was a setup for us that night because we never did talk about the processing plant at all.

And then we hear these comments about–I’m trying to be nice–to talk about a new county, I’ll put it that way, or Springs County, but I didn’t want to say it, but it pisses me off, I’ll just be honest with you, because why would we put County resources into a city that wants a new county, a Springs County? So why would we put Alachua County assets in a city that they’re talking about Springs County–it keeps coming up when we don’t agree with the City of Newberry about something. And that’s frustrating to me… If you want to be in Springs County, create a Springs County, but don’t come to the County asking us to put facilities in your backyard… I don’t play those games like that.”

Chestnut went on to say he was upset that Newberry asked the County to move CR 337 up on their list of priorities in exchange for the land for County facilities: “We have a pavement management plan. We hired a consultant to do an equity issue in that plan. And now you want us to deviate from our plan to meet you, when you didn’t even support the surtax for transportation. So I don’t play games. And so I don’t support any of our projects going into the City of Newberry, and I will vote against it and continue to vote against it… I’m not trying to kill the meat processing plant, but I will kill it if it goes to Newberry.”

Chestnut asked whether the County has identified other locations for the proposed facilities. Prizzia said the County had originally looked at the Newberry location because they offered land and have a wastewater treatment facility there.

“What I’ve done is switch lanes”

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said instead of taking an off-ramp, “What I’ve done is switch lanes.” She said she wanted various organizations to “form a co-op or work in cooperation with the University of Florida… I am ready to let this go into the hands of the people who will actually make this happen for the community. I am not interested in sending out an RFP at this point.” Wheeler favored making a grant available but not having staff work on it anymore. She continued, “I’m not on the off-ramp, because I do support the idea of meat processing… I’m trying to pull us out of it until we have a clearer path with people who are engaged in the profession.”

Prizzia said the RFP is exactly that – an opportunity for an organization to use $2.5 million in County funds to put toward a meat processing facility – but Wheeler said she didn’t think there would be any interest in that, and she didn’t want staff to keep working on it. 

“I think that Newberry has put us into a corner”

Prizzia said, “I get you, but it is an off-ramp. I mean, you are killing the project. And that’s fine… I understand why… Because I think that Newberry has put us into a corner.” She said she hoped the board would keep the $2.5 million “solidly in the local food bucket… and then we ask our staff to come forward with actual plans and proposals for how we can use that $2.5 million to increase food security and local food projects across Alachua County and not just derail the conversation about local food development and economic development in this arena.”

Wheeler said she disagreed with Chestnut about Newberry’s request to move up work on CR 337: “I was looking at it as good horse trading,… you make deals, you try to find the best angle to get what you need for your community. So I wasn’t offended by all of that. I realized that the mayor and the Commission there was trying to get a road taken care of, and they were willing to move the pieces around in a way that would get them the leverage that they wanted for that.”

Commissioner Mary Alford supported asking for proposals to put the facilities in another location, although applicants would need to be able to process the waste, among other requirements. She supported going forward with the RFP to see whether a local meat processing facility would be financially viable.

Motion to discontinue working on the meat processing facility

Cornell pointed out that 31 people had spoken about the meat processing facility during Early Public Comment, and 74% were against the facility. He made a motion to “direct staff to discontinue working on the development of a County-owned meat processing facility.” Wheeler seconded the motion.

During public comment on the motion, eight people spoke in favor of the motion, and two spoke in favor of continuing to work toward a meat processing facility. 

“I am truly outraged by the behavior towards this board”

After public comment ended, Wheeler scolded the public for being disrespectful to Alachua County and Newberry Commissioners: “I don’t appreciate my fellow commissioners being called by their first name. We have a certain protocol… The disrespect that I see coming towards this commission makes it very hard to agree with whatever it is you’re saying… It makes it very hard to be a part of a solution.”

Speaking to one family that has shown up to multiple County and Newberry meetings and who mentioned that they had interrupted their vacation to be at the meeting and might move here in the future if the meat processing facility was not stopped, Wheeler said, “The fact that you all have given up your vacation to be here is not our problem; that has nothing to do with us. Your personal life has nothing to do with us, particularly when you don’t even live in this community… I am truly outraged by the behavior towards this board.”

Prizzia had to stop Wheeler several times to ask people in the chamber to stop calling out responses to what she was saying, and one man was removed by a deputy after multiple requests from Prizzia to be quiet. 

“I thought our community was further along in terms of… its ability to… embrace a project like this”

Prizzia said, “I think that [the reason] this project isn’t moving forward is because of a lack of education and understanding of our food system as a whole and where the industrial food system is and the stranglehold that it has on our overall ability to provide healthy and sustainable and resilient food systems for our world. And you know, I’ve been working in that arena for a long time, so I take some personal responsibility for the fact that I thought our community was further along in terms of its understanding and its ability to sort of embrace a project like this, which is a leading-edge project. But we’re not there yet, and I get that, and I accept it.” She said she hoped the motion would fail and that they would keep the money in a bucket for local food systems development and direct staff to look at other options for supporting a local food economy and building resilient food systems in the community.

Cornell said he would work with Prizzia on food security issues, “but I can’t support a meat processing facility in Alachua County right now.” He said he would look at unsolicited proposals for a meat processing facility but would not support a facility led or owned by the County. 

Prizzia asked if they could keep the $2.5 million set aside for local food systems development, and Cornell replied, “No, I’m not ready to do that. That’s the next conversation I want to have.”

“Every time Newberry wants its way, they bring up Springs County, and I don’t like that”

Chestnut said he supported food security, but “I will state this over and over again: I will not support anything going to Newberry because they keep talking about Springs County, and most folks don’t want to talk about it, but to me, it’s very, very important. Either you want to be a part of Alachua County or you don’t. And if you don’t, then develop your own county and do what you want to do. I don’t respect that… Every time Newberry wants its way, they bring up Springs County, and I don’t like that.”

Alford asked whether Chestnut would be open to a substitute motion to remove the City of Newberry from the RFP and go ahead and issue it, and he said, “I’ll be honest with you–no.”

Cornell’s motion passed 3-2, with Alford and Prizzia in dissent, effectively ending the meat processing facility.

#     #    #

Email editor@


Add a comment

ALACHUA COUNTY - Each year, the Alachua County Crisis Center hosts a free symposium to address mental wellness and health needs. The symposium is held in the month of September to honor suicide prevention month. The presenters of the symposium are trained mental health professionals including Alachua County Crisis Center staff, invited mental health professionals, and faculty from Counselor Education programs. 

From Sept. 11-14, 2023, the Alachua County Crisis Center will be hosting Safety Not Silence: A Mental Health Sympsoium. Sessions will be offered virtually via Zoom between 5:30 p.m. through 8:30 p.m.  The topics of the sessions vary and are intended for anyone in the community interested in mental health and wellness. Sessions are facilitated by mental health professionals, paraprofessionals, and local (Alachua County) community agencies. A detailed program of sessions and facilitators will be sent to those who register for the symposium. 

 To register for this FREE mental health symposium, please click here.

 If you are a mental health professional, Counselor Educator, or Alachua County community agency representative, you may submit a session proposal here.

#     #     #

Email editor@


Add a comment

NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission approved in a 3-1 vote an increase in the fire rescue assessment for fiscal year 2023-24. The $5 per dwelling unit increase is anticipated to offset increased fire department costs. Commissioner Tim Marden casting the dissenting vote.

Rates per residential dwelling unit are $200 while non-residential properties are charged per square foot. Commercial properties are charged $0.17, Industrial/Warehouse properties are charged $0.03 and Institutional properties are charged $0.23.

The special assessment for fire services funds personnel costs, capital improvements, equipment and other costs related to responding to fire/non-medical emergencies, maintaining readiness to respond to fire/non-medical emergencies through staffing, training, procuring and maintaining facilities and equipment.

In other business, the Commission unanimously approved a Master Joint Project Agreement (JPA) between the City and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the State Road 26 Twin Pairs Project.

The agreement provides for relocation of some of the City’s utility facilities such as overhead electric, fiber optic, water, and wastewater on State Road 26 and on Northwest 1st Avenue. FDOT has programmed the construction of the State Road 26 Twin Pairs project into its five-year work plan.

Now that the agreement has been approved, FDOT will provide Utility Work Order No. 1 requesting the deposit for the City of Newberry’s Non-Compensable portion of the design contract for $169,568.

Later, upon working through design and finalizing construction cost, FDOT will request subsequent work orders off this same Master Agreement for the deposit of City’s participation in the Construction Cost.

All work orders under this Master JPA that exceed the purchasing authority of the City Manager, which is $25,000, will be brought before the Commission for consideration and approval before any work is performed.

In other business, the City Commission approved on first reading was an ordinance requested by Alachua County to provide consent for authorization to continue to levy a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) amount for the purpose of providing solid waste services to the City of Newberry.

The measure passed in a 3-1 vote with Commissioner Marden casting the dissenting vote. The MSBU rate for residential customers in FY 23-24 is $25.27, an increase from the prior year. Newberry city staff said that rates have not been increased in the prior three years.

Due to a conflict between the City’s first budget hearing and the Alachua County School Board’s meeting on Sept. 11, the City Commission will hold a budget workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 5, following the Planning and Zoning Board meeting. The Commission has also rescheduled the Sept. 11 meeting to take place on Sept. 6. The Commission will discuss the first budget meeting on that date as well.

The Commission voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency in Newberry due to Hurricane Idalia, which is slated to make landfall as a Category Three hurricane at Cedar Key. City Hall will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 30 – 31. City Manager Mike New reviewed the procedures for crews to be dispatched to address downed electrical wires and emergency shelters.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@


Add a comment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Farm Share, Florida’s leading food nonprofit and the state’s largest food bank, is distributing food to food-insecure Floridians in the Gainesville area. Recipients will receive fresh produce and non-perishable canned goods. Distributions are drive-thru only to minimize contact and to help ensure the safety of all parties. Attendees must arrive in a vehicle with a trunk or cargo bed.

With more than 3.9 million families suffering from food insecurity throughout Florida, Farm Share meets the everyday hunger needs of Floridians by working hand-in-hand with local farmers to recover and redistribute produce that would otherwise be thrown away due to aesthetic imperfections. 

Farm Share also distributes food to the community through its network of soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, churches, and senior centers across Florida free of charge. To find a food pantry near you, please visit www.farmshare.org/food-pantries.

Event: Project Youthbuild Free Food Distribution

Date: Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Time: 9:00 a.m. until supplies last

Location: 635 NW 6th St, Gainesville, FL 32601

#     #     #

Email editor@


Add a comment

More Articles ...