Food, farms, and Florida

Hello all, and a very happy new year!  First off, I want to remind folks that the intrepid Kate Jones will be at the Portland Farmers’ Market in Monument Square this Wednesday, Jan. 6th, between 11 AM and 1 PM selling our delicious farm-fresh eggs.  Go see her!  Bring her a cup of hot chocolate!  And stick around to see what the other farmers braving the elements out there have to offer.

I’m writing from Cape Coral, Florida, at the home of Sonya’s folks.  Our big winter trip began a couple weeks ago, and we’re having a blast so far.  One of our first stops was in Washington DC to visit my cousin.  He lives on Capitol Hill, just a block or two away from the famous Eastern Market, DC’s oldest continually operated fresh food market, up and running since 1873.  A fire a few years ago gutted the place and gave rise to an enthusiastic community effort to rebuild and revamp the market, and the results are impressive.  The fine old brick structure houses dozens of permanent vendors selling seafood, fruits and veggies, baked goods, meats, and prepared foods.  Outside, an open air farmers’ market featured veggies, Christmas wreaths, and other crafts.  We bought some wonderful fresh pasta and marinara sauce plus a crusty baguette for a quick dinner one evening during our stay.  Outstanding!

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Yesterday, we got back from a trip down to the Everglades in southern Florida.  Down there, it’s either swamp or farmland…many of your winter veggies from the grocery store probably originate here.  This is industrial agriculture in action…endless rows of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, a sea of beans, an ocean of summer squash, groves of royal palm and fruit trees.  We saw massive irrigation systems, incredible amounts of black plastic mulch, and the vans and trucks dropping of migrant pickers and portable toilets in the fields where harvesting needed to happen.  The black plastic really was a shock.  Sonya tells me that when the crop is done, bulldozers rip up the plastic which then gets piled in the center of the field and burned.  Not good…  Most houseplants originate down here, too, and we passed by massive nurseries.

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There are bright spots, however.  One is Robert Is Here, a fruit stand in Homestead, family owned and operated since 1960, when 6-year-old Robert was set up by the side of the road to try and sell an excess of cucumbers from his father’s farm.  He stayed there, the place grew and thrived, and today it’s a big and busy operation with a petting zoo, an old truck and tractor display, tropical fruits and veggies piled high, a line of Robert Is Here jams, flavored honeys, and hot sauces, etc.  The main attraction, however, are the tropical fruit milkshakes.  I had strawberry key lime…Sonya had mango pineapple…they are big and filling and worth every penny.

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Just down the road is Paradise Farms, an organic operation specializing in micro greens, herbs, edible flowers, and salad mix which they wholesale to high-end restaurants in the Miami area.  They also grow some fruits and have just started growing oyster mushrooms.  Sonya lived and worked here during the winter of 2004 and enjoyed being back.  She caught up a bit with Gabriele Marewski, the founder of the farm, and got a kick out of wandering around, showing us what was what and soaking in all the changes that have occurred there since her last visit.  Farms–the creative ones at least–are constantly evolving, and it was encouraging for us to see the changes at Paradise, a successful and vibrant farm doing things the right way, a beautiful oasis in a sea of monocultures and chemical agriculture.

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Today, we motor up to St. Petersburg to see my uncle then we head west to Texas.  I’ll try to keep posting!

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One Response to Food, farms, and Florida

  1. Steve says:

    The eastern market brings back memories. I was in my final semester of college (1983)when I did an internship in DC. I lived a few blocks away from the Eastern Market and would go there each sat. morning to pick up some fresh food and good steaks. Thanks for the pictures.

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