Eating food locally grown and raised by small farms practicing sustainable farming is a value that I did not expect to embrace with such dedication. I do not like to be lectured when I shop for groceries so the moral high ground approach is not the reason I care so much. I appreciate the earnestness and passion of our farmers. I certainly applaud them for going against the trend of industrial farming despite the hard labour and low profit. As a consumer, what truly convinced me is that dollar for dollar, I get much higher quality, better variety, and healthier option. Once I’ve seen the value in this choice, there’s no going back to my old ways.
Even in the familiarity of home, it takes planning and effort to get my weekly supply of farm fresh produce from my CSA Kawartha Ecological Growers and my favourite farmers’ markets. The challenge to eat locally is magnified when I’m away from home. As soon as I arrived in South Florida, my first order of business was to seek out locations of Whole Foods Market and farmers’ markets. Being one of the main growing region of United States, one would expect abundant availability of high quality produce in Florida. Strangely enough, that does not appear to be the case from many people I talked to. Since I arrived in Fort Lauderdale a week ago, I shopped at various grocery stores catering to different consumer markets. I visited Wal-Mart Supercenter, Publix, Whole Foods Market, and Marando Farms. Now I understand my friends’ lament on the lack of quality produce.
Wal-Mart and Publix are both mainstream grocery chains targeting slightly different spending habits but the variety and quality of produce (conventional or organic) are serviceable at best. Even at Whole Foods, the produce section is significantly smaller than many other locations I visited in Canada, Illinois, New York, Virginia, and Texas. I was baffled to find lemons, limes, and oranges from Mexico and California. Isn’t Florida the biggest producer of citrus in the US? Why should I find imported citrus when local fruit is in season? The farmers’ market scene in Florida is often diluted with vendors who are not even selling food, much less locally grown and raised ingredients. It’s all a bit disheartening.
Fortunately, the gems are there for those who seek them out. Farm stands piled with the day’s harvest are still the norm. A drive out to the countryside may reward you with berries freshly picked from the field. Local cheese maker who produces fiore di latte using his experience from the Old World. And I would like to share a little piece of rural haven in the heart of Fort Lauderdale that is Marando Farms.
Marando Farms is a small urban farm, food coop, nursery, and education centre all rolled into one. It coordinates a community shared agriculture program sourcing from local small farms. You can also walk in and purchase the freshly picked fruit and vegetable, farm-fresh eggs (chicken, duck, and goose!), baked goods, pet food, and raw milk/yogurt/cream/butter. As soon as I entered the gates, I knew I found what I was looking for. Should I get the Kirby cucumbers to make some bread and butter pickles? Which of the heirloom tomatoes should I get? Lemon and limes that look ugly but are heavy and puckery. Heads of lettuce, cauliflower, green and purple cabbage that turned my thoughts to crisp salads. Summer and winter squashes mingled with each other in the baskets. I think there were even a few coconuts in their shells!
I returned to the apartment with plenty of goodies. The green zebra tomatoes joined forces with fresh mozzarella, basils, and a drizzle of olive oil to create a salad caprese. This Canadian is gobsmack that I am able to enjoy sun-ripen tomatoes in February! A couple of eggs already turned into a simple dinner of soft boiled eggs, totally luscious with their deep golden yolks. The acorn squash is destined to be baked and stuffed wild rice, dried fruit, and nuts. And I can’t wait to dig into the yogurt and raw milk for my breakfast! I have a feeling butterscotch or chocolate pudding will be made…