Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook’s exposé that casts a dark shadow on Florida’s tomato trade, has made us appreciate even more the local farmers who are growing juicy, garden-ripe tomatoes the right way.
Florida produces one-third of the fresh tomatoes in the United States, Estabrook writes, but to combat sandy soil devoid of nutrients, insects and diseases, some growers heap herbicides and pesticides on the plants, then gas them with ethylene. Add to that the exploitation of laborers, and it paints a dismal picture of the Sunshine State.
But you can find guilt-free tomatoes in Florida during tomato season, generally November through June — tomatoes that smell like tomatoes and are delicious with nothing more than a good shake of coarse salt. Most of these crops are grown hydroponically, in a nurturing environment that reduces or eliminates the need for pesticides and fertilizers.
In Sanford, Melanie Corun and Roger Worst have been raising hydroponic crops for more than 10 years at Waterkist Farm, and you can find them every Saturday at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market. Local chefs including those from The Ravenous Pig, Luma on Park and the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, are well acquainted with Waterkist perfection. A fair amount of the farm’s harvest makes its way to grocery stores as far away as New York City, but the Winter Park market remains a favorite place to sell its tomatoes, grown in 13,000 square feet of pristine indoor space — about 3,000 tomato plants, including prized heirlooms.
In nearby Geneva, Rest Haven Farms is beginning its 10th season of hydroponic tomatoes. Planting started in August, with the harvest distributed to local farm markets in November. Bob and Laura Braun and their 11-year-old son, Zack, cultivate more than 2,000 tomato plants in 6,600 square feet. In addition to popular red beefsteaks, they offer varied crops each year — last year it was five varieties of cherry tomatoes and four varieties of heirlooms. You’ll find them at Lake Eola Farmers’ Market on Sundays, Lake Mary Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and the Wickham Park Farmers’ Market in Melbourne on Thursdays.
“We typically harvest 40 pounds per plant per season,” Laura says. “We use only organic and botanical controls, and pick at the height of ripeness.”
In South Florida, Teena Borek’s legendary Homestead farm, Teena’s Pride, includes 10 acres of hydroponic greenhouses for her 20 varieties of prized heirloom tomatoes — all grown without the use of herbicides. Heart of Christmas Farm in Christmas and 3 Boys Farm in Ruskin also grow hydroponic tomatoes using organic practices.
Other small farms, such as Turkey Hill Farm and Orchard Pond Organics in Tallahassee and Full Earth Farm in neighboring Quincy, are growing tomatoes the old-fashioned way: in the ground, using all-natural growing practices including hand-harvested compost to enrich the typically sandy soil. The resulting product isn’t particularly shelf-stable or unblemished, but the flavor is remarkable.
To ensure you’re buying responsibly grown tomatoes, check farmers’ markets, including Audubon Park and College Park, where you can talk with the growers. Homegrown Co-op in Orlando carries organic tomatoes in season, and Whole Foods often stocks locally grown organic heirloom varieties. —Pam Brandon
Golabki or tuna poke?
Food plays a starring role, and wine, beer and cocktails provide the backbeat for this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Sept. 30–Nov. 13. For adventurous eaters, the Disney festival is like a culinary trip around the globe without a passport: chicken souvlaki with tzatziki in Greece, goulash in Poland, rib-eye tacos in Mexico, calamari salad in Portugal, lamb sliders in New Zealand.
More than 25 international Marketplaces feature these tapas-sized portions, priced from $3 to $8. It’s fun to stroll and share tastes without a big commitment (at least try France’s garlic snails in brioche). Kids can pick up a free “Marketplace Discovery Passport” to be stamped at each international marketplace for a fun diversion as they make their way around the lagoon.
Also fun for kids is the new “cranberry bog,” telling the story behind the harvesting of the cranberry, one of only a handful of fruits native to North America.
Beyond tastes and sips, there’s daily live entertainment along the promenade, from music to acrobatics and improv performances. There also are special culinary programs with noted winemakers, and hundreds of chefs and speakers hosting elegant dinners, luncheons, seminars and wine schools.
Some events are included with park admission; others require reservations and separate admission. For a full schedule, visit www.disneyworld.com/foodandwine.
Two locavore events join forces
Two November food events are combining efforts this year to raise awareness of the local food movement — the second annual Eat Local Week, Nov. 11-18, will lead up to the second annual Winter Park Harvest Festival Nov. 19-20.
Eat Local Week, presented by Slow Food Orlando, includes special dining offers, workshops, tours and tastings featuring more than 30 area farmers and food artisans. Participating restaurants will present prix fixe menus ranging from $10 to $40, using ingredients sourced no more than 200 miles from Central Florida.
“By purchasing food directly from producers or dining at restaurants that feature locally grown ingredients, the money goes right to the people who produced your food, creating a more sustainable future for Central Florida’s food system,” explains Gabriela Othon Lothrop, the organizer for Eat Local Week. “Not only do we benefit from wonderful food by eating local, but there is no middle man — the money stays in our community and builds a stronger local economy.”
At press time, participants include Big Wheel Provisions, Boathouse of Winter Park, Cress Restaurant, Dandelion Communitea Café, K Restaurant, Loews Royal Pacific, Luma on Park, Mi Tomatina Paella Bar, Paxia, Pine 22, Primo Restaurant, The Ravenous Pig, The Rusty Spoon, Sandwich Bar and Stardust Video and Coffee.
Pick up an Eat Local Week scorecard wherever edible Orlando is available so you can check off attended events, then enter scorecards into a prize drawing at the Winter Park Harvest Festival, which is expanding to include two full days of events. The weekend will include activities for children and families, seminars, cooking demonstrations, live music and round-table discussions. Some of the area’s best chefs will create locally sourced cuisine at the farm-to-table dinner on Saturday night, and at Sunday’s all-day, 100-percent-local farmers’ market, shop for everything you need to create a locally sourced Thanksgiving feast.
For more information on Eat Local Week and to see a schedule of events, visit www.eatlocalweek.com. Visit www.winterparkharvestfestival.com to see a complete listing of seminar topics and events and to purchase tickets for the farm-to-table dinner.
A corny way to have fun
If you’re looking to get lost this fall, Sept. 17 kicks off Scott’s Fall Corn Maze at Long & Scott Farms in nearby Zellwood. One of only a handful in Florida, and the only one in Central Florida, the corn maze is a nostalgic autumn amusement that mixes traditional — hay rides and farm tours — with modern activities. “We try to incorporate something new every year,” says Anna Sciarrino, director of Sales and Marketing at Long & Scott Farms. This year’s theme is Renewable Energy, so activities also include stations with clues and games to help kids learn more about the topic. Games, food vendors, fishing for kids and group farm tours, as well as an all-new zip line and giant jumping pillow, will entertain visitors.
Last year, the maze welcomed more than 30,000 people, so this year, the farm extended the dates into December. During the week, the maze is open only to large groups by reservation, but on weekends, it is open to the general public. Famous for its Zellwood Sweet Corn, Long & Scott Farms covers 1,200 acres and has been owned by the same family since 1963.
For more information, visit www.longandscottfarms.com/fall_maze.html.
Come see edible Orlando at the Orlando Home Show
Edible Orlando will host the main stage at the Orlando Home Show Oct. 7–9 with cooking demonstrations by area chefs, food personalities and edible Orlando staff.
One of the headliners is Orlando resident Charles Mattocks, no stranger to the spotlight. As The Poor Chef, he creates healthy family meals for $7 or less and has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America and The Today Show. A nephew of reggae legend Bob Marley, Mattocks grew up eating Caribbean staples like chicken curry, rice and peas and bananas and dumplings, but since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a year ago, his cooking, and his career, have changed dramatically. “Diabetes needs a rock star,” Mattocks says.
According to the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute, more than 1.5 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with diabetes this year and another 7 million will remain undiagnosed, people Mattocks hopes to reach when he completes his documentary film The Diabetic You.
“By taking ownership of your own health, you can avoid the use of prescription medications,” says Dr. Kalidas from The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine, who also appears in the film. “Incorporating lifestyle, exercise and nutritional modifications are key first-line therapies.”
Mattocks’ years of culinary experience give him the ability to tweak traditional recipes to make them friendly to diabetic diets. “We come from a high-carb culture,” says Mattocks, “but now I do curry chicken with a fresh cilantro salad, lemon juice and olive oil, so I still get the flavors I love.”