Tag Archives: local farms

Meaningful Meals

*Welcome Amy as she contributes her blog post today!

Well Fed Family is together this week for our annual Cousins Camp on Lake Martin in Alabama.  While the emphasis for the week is reuniting with family, food plays a big part.  We spent time together planning the menu and purchasing food. Together we will prepare it and, most importantly, eat it.  All of this is done in fellowship together.  As we nurture our relationships and build each other up, we are also nurturing our bodies and making them stronger.  Healthy food, joyful fellowship, and thankful hearts contribute to good digestion, which creates healthy bodies.  One might say it’s a beautiful cycle, as a healthy body is better able to participate in joyful fellowship, have a thankful heart, and digest food well.  While we don’t have ultimate or complete control over our health, we are certainly having a good time doing what we can!

grilled chicken platter

Rora Valley Farms grilled chicken

Lee and I thought it would be fun to blog this week about our meals, and maybe share a recipe or two.  We will definitely have photos!  We based much of the menu on what our mother will be receiving in her CSA box this week, other seasonal foods, and special dietary needs  (some folks are currently gluten free).  We are looking forward to catfish, grilled pork chops, lamb burgers, grilled chicken, and everyone’s favorite grilled hamburgers.  Some of our sides will include corn on the cob, collard greens, potato salad, green beans, quinoa, asparagus, Nourishing Traditions baked beans, and roasted potatoes.

grilled chicken dinner from cousins camp

grilled chicken, sprouted brown rice, sauteed squash and leeks

Our first night’s feast was simple: grilled chicken, sprouted brown rice, and squash.  In fact, it sounds kind of boring.  But this was the meal that gave us the idea for this series.  When we thanked the Lord for those who prepared our food, it suddenly dawned on us that we could associate a name and face with each and every dish on our table.   Noah Sanders, of Rora Valley Farm, raised and processed our chicken.  He has a wife and baby; his family is just beginning.  Our mother has supported his farm and family for at least three years now.  The sprouted brown rice came from To Your Health Sprouted Flours, a flourishing company from right here in Alabama owned by Peggy Sutton.  We have been purchasing from Peggy since maybe 2007, back when she was still selling baked goods.  And finally, our squash and leeks came fresh from last week’s Randle Farms CSA box.  This well established family farm provides this community with pastured meats, lots of delicious vegetables, and amazing strawberries and blueberries. (I would also like to mention the farmer who provided our delicious raw milk, but …)  Now mindful of these connections, dinner was even tastier.

 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is

 than a fattened ox and hatred with it.

Proverbs 15:17

What is it that makes a meal delicious?  This week Well Fed Family is reminded that there are several components of a meal that work together to make it delicious, memorable, and nourishing.  Of course the food itself should be fresh and nutritious.  But there is much more.  Enjoying a meal with loved ones is very important; it’s always better to eat with someone than all alone.  Preparing the meal in joyful fellowship with one another also matters.  An atmosphere of joyfulness and thankfulness sets the stage for good health.   But let’s not forget where it begins: on the farm, with those families who intentionally raise or grow your food in a spirit of joyfulness and thankfulness, allowing the animals and crops to flourish in a way that glorifies the Lord.

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There are Farmer’s Markets and then there are “Farmer’s” Markets

I live in a very urban area, the greater metropolitan Orlando area to be exact. Over the years I’ve worked hard to find sources for local food and cultivate relationships with local farmers. As a Weston A. Price Foundation chapter co-leader I keep an ever-growing list of as many of these resources as I can find so I can share them with our members. My best advice is usually “Go to your local farmer’s market, look around, and start talking to people. Ask questions, be courteous, and eventually you will make your own local food connections.”  That is usually good advice – except last Saturday I found the exception to the rule.

I had to take my daughter downtown to a Shakespeare workshop that morning which put me within a mile or two of one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the whole Central Florida area, same location for over 35 years. It was a beautiful day, I had extra time on my hands and so I headed to Winter Park. The parking was as crazy as I remembered it from the last time I’d gone about 15 years ago. The market sits next to the railroad tracks and spreads out on the grounds of the old train depot – very picturesque with brick pavers and wrought iron fencing. I wasn’t in any hurry, I just wanted a relaxing activity that would culminate with me eating something superfresh, local and healthy for my lunch later on. Slowly I canvassed the entire market area taking in all the people and the full tables under big tents. As I inspected each stand it began to dawn on me…there isn’t anything here that actually grew here! All the produce was beautifully displayed, but it all had PLU code stickers on it. There were baskets of apples and bags of pecans, neither of which grow in Central Florida and definitely not this time of year. There were at least a dozen stands selling other items like fancy greenhouse potted flowers, imported pasta, coffee from Washington State or Hawaii, landscaping shrubs, facial care products from a multi-level marketing company, commercially canned pickles. The stands selling produce had exorbitant prices for non-organic plain old grocery store goods.

winter park farmers market 1 winter park farmers market 2

I could get strawberries from Plant City, FL and pay $6 for one basket, or I could get back in the car, drive to Publix and get those same Plant City strawberries at 2/$5. The potted plants were the same thing you could get at any Home Depot garden center, except if you bought them here at the market you could pay double or triple price; none of the plants for sale were actually planted or grown by the people selling them. Eventually I found a little tent with a sign that said “Waterkist Farms Sanford FL” selling hydroponic heirloom tomatoes. I bought four nearly-ripe ones so I could make some fermented salsa later this week. Then I decided to ask them a question. “Are you all the only actual farmers here?”  The man glanced around as if someone might overhear, then looked at his wife; they both started to grin a little – “No ma’am, if you look across the market over to the other side up by the building you can see a little white-haired lady and her son with some flowers. They grow their own, too.” I said “Thank you – and thank you all for being local farmers!” They both gave me big smiles and I crossed over to see the little white-haired lady. She didn’t have much either, just a couple buckets of long-stemmed sunflowers, several bags of sunflower sprouts, and some baskets of tiny white turnips. I bought $6 worth of sprouts and turnips and they were so kind and so thankful for my business!  After that there was nothing to do but leave!

hydroponic tomatoes, sunflower sprouts and turnips

hydroponic tomatoes, sunflower sprouts and turnips

farmers market purchases lake mary

sage, peppers, backyard eggs, cukes and kale

I was so frustrated by that experience that I drove the 15 miles north up I-4 to Lake Mary, FL, exited and headed to the Lake Mary Farmer’s Market where I knew there was a good chance I’d find more than one actual farmer. I was rewarded for my efforts and brought home a dozen local eggs, two kinds of kale, several sweet peppers and some very fresh cucumbers – oh and a nice pot of fresh sage. At that point my cash had run out, but things were looking up for my lunch!

So what can you do to be sure you are getting locally grown food and supporting local farmers when you shop at farmer’s markets? First off you can find out whether your market has any rules about the source of items sold at their market. For example to be a vendor at the Franklin, TN, market you have to “make it, bake it, raise it or grow it” in order to sell it there. Secondly, a big tip-off that you aren’t buying directly from the grower is the presence of PLU code stickers. Those stickers are used to track inventory by retailers. A farmer selling his onions direct-to-consumer would not need to add stickers. Stickers are a sign that the produce you see went through at least one middleman wholesaler before it got there. Third, know what grows in your area at what time of year. The Florida Dept. of Ag website keeps a chart of everything that grows in FL during each month of the year. Most states have something similar. Cherries and table grapes don’t grow in the US in February, or in FL at all! Finally, just ask the person selling the vegetables if they grew them. Simply say something like “Tell me what you grew, I’d like to buy something seasonal and local.” Then you can also ask them whether they spray with pesticides, and what kind of weed control they use. Be sure to be polite!

When I finally got home Saturday I was happy to discover two little Purple Cherokee tomatoes in my own garden were ripe and ready! They were the perfect finishing touch for my superfresh-and-local salad for lunch.

farmer's market salad with homegrown tomatoes

farmer’s market salad with homegrown tomatoes

Our New Strict Budget for Sequestration

My husband’s job is with the US government. His boss has informed everyone (about 1,000 employees!) that the whole building will be subject to the upcoming budget sequestration and everyone is going to be furloughed. Not the kind of news anyone wants to hear, but very common news around the U.S.
dollar signs

We have been doing some serious reflection on our household budget lately. As a result one of the things that has changed is the way I buy groceries. I now have a to last me each two-week pay period. From that envelope comes anything purchased at Publix, Target, Hoover’s Essential Health, Chamberlins, Fresh Market or WalMart. It also has to cover my twice-monthly purchases from the organic veggie co-op, anything I order from our Frontier co-op, and the quarterly grain and honey order from The Bread Beckers. We don’t buy our raw milk from this envelope because, frankly, it’s too expensive to fit within our grocery budget! We are still buying it, however, because it is a deposit on the health of our children and so as long as we can swing it we will still include it. (Florida’s raw milk prices are higher than a lot of other states simply because it is harder to raise healthy dairy cows here through the long hot summers and the very dry winters.)

When my husband first approached me with this new budget I was afraid things were going to have to change a lot, and we were going to be eating less healthfully with lower quality ingredients. I am surprised and pleased to say that for the most part I was wrong! We can still afford to buy organic vegetables because the co-op prices are better than the grocery store prices. We can still buy our more natural body care products because, again, the co-op prices are so much better than the retail prices! I do have to plan purchases much more carefully and be sure to set aside money each week in order to have enough to make the bulk orders, but that is something I should have been doing all along. I still buy nutritional supplements like probiotics, cod liver oil and vitamins but now I wait for sales and I have discovered a place that will give me 10% discount for being a regular customer.

That is the reason I’m taking time to write all this because it is important that people understand eating healthfully and being on a budget are not mutually exclusive propositions! In fact we would probably be able to fit the raw milk into this budget situation more easily if I could manage to do one more thing, and that is to find a source for a half of a grassfed beef. I’ve been calling around and every place that has reasonable prices also has a waiting list. The up-front cost to bulk beef purchasing is daunting. You have to be able to fork over several hundred dollars but in return you have enough high-quality meat to last you six months to a year depending on how much you buy. My local Publix sells grassfed ground beef at $7.99/lb. With a bulk beef purchase I can eat steak, roasts, short ribs and filets as well as ground beef for less per pound than the grocery store grassfed beef price. The same can be said for pasture-raised chickens, lamb and pork.

I am thankful for all the years that I have spent building up my local food resources. When we first transitioned our diet from SAD (Standard American Diet) to a whole foods, traditional diet I had no idea where to find much of the things I now buy. I started out by going to farmer’s markets and just asking anyone and everyone things like “where can I find eggs from hens living on pasture?” or “where can I find someone who will sell me raw milk?”. My persistence paid off and now I try to help others who are just starting out find the healthy foods they need.

The other key to making this budget work is diligence in weekly menu planning. I homeschool a 14 year old and a 12 year old who both play ball, both are involved in the church youth group, both play musical instruments and both participated on a robotics team. We are busy! I was letting the busy-ness be an excuse to plan less when I should have been planning more! Over the last six weeks of this new budget we’ve eaten better and spent less money on food than we have in a long time.

Don’t let your budget be a stumbling block to eating well. Take time to plan, be committed to cooking at home, look for local resources, join or start a co-op for things you buy regularly and you will be surprised how much you can afford!

Field Trip: Seminole County’s 2013 Farm Tour

Someone needs to remind the Extension Service that whenever they need it to rain they should schedule a Farm Tour day.  It seems like every time I’ve participated in the Seminole County Farm Tour it rains the whole day.  The rain didn’t stop the crowds, however. This was the most heavily attended Farm Tour I can remember! I think attendance was higher than the good farmers had counted on. I wondered if we didn’t seem like stampeding herds or swarming locust to some of the smaller venues.

The day started appropriately for a wet and soggy morning at a farm near the edge of Lake Jesup in Winter Springs. Soggy Acres Pomelo Farm at 100 Tuskawilla Road seemed in danger of being swallowed up by the encroaching “urban lifestyle” Winter Springs Town Center. But as soon as you took a few steps down the dirt driveway and passed through the tree-tangled entrance you could forget you were within spitting distance of eight restaurants, three salons, law offices, medical offices, realtors and a Publix.

soggy acres pomeloSoggy Acres Pomelo Farm is a slice of old Florida. The pomelo is the great-great grandmother of our modern grapefruit, but without the bitterness that can accompany the grapefruit. We missed prime pomelo season which occurs in late winter and early spring along with most of the rest of the citrus fruits. Soggy Acres is a U-Pick pomelo grove that runs on the honor system. The family farmstead sits at the end of the long dirt driveway that bisects the grove. Near the front is a large wooden platform and a big metal mailbox. Sometimes pomelos are picked and left on the platform for customers to buy, or you can bring a basket and wander through the pleasant green trees and pick your own. Either way be sure to leave your payment (cash only) inside the big metal mailbox.mulberry tree Although we didn’t get to taste a pomelo this time, we did get to try mulberries.  Soggy Acres is home to more than just pomelos. The farmer has a soft spot for all kinds of fruit trees. In addition to the mulberry trees there were also lychees and a few other exotic tropical residents.  Apparently the squirrels and raccoons love them all so harvests are slim on those and reserved for the farm family only.

We left Soggy Acres and headed south on Tuskawilla Road about five miles to Gabriella Lane in Oviedo.


Gabriella Growers, 4875 Gabriella Lane, was stop #2 on the Farm Tour. It was my least favorite of the stops simply because Gabriella Growers was a) a wholesale nursery rather than retail and b) selling only foliage plants for home and office.  Sorry, but ferns and pothos just don’t thrill me. I was much more intrigued by the things living and growing on the outside of the greenhouse. foliage greenhouse gabriella growers horses at gabriella growers The greenhouse was just a vast wasteland of pampered potted plants. Outside we found some very friendly horses, a chicken coop and a nicely tended vegetable garden filled with leeks, cabbage, kale and onions.

Stop #3 took us six miles east to the edge of Seminole County where Red Bug Lake becomes Mitchell Hammock Road. But even that far out we couldn’t shake suburbia as block after block of gated communities stretched on into the horizon. Just past the east campus of Seminole State College is Red Ember Road.  The paved highway ends and a wide dirt highway continues on past five acre single-family homesteads. One homestead sported a dazzling male peacock on its roof. sundew gardens oviedoThe peacock was quite alarmed at the onslaught of cars and pedestrians and spent the whole time screeching his dire warning call. Sundew Gardens, 2212 Red Ember Road, Oviedo, was a few driveways past the peacock and through a leafy arched entrance drive. Sundew Gardens is a U-Pick Vegetable Farm open only to members.  It’s really a twist on the popular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) idea. For a $100 membership fee you get access to the organic vegetable garden, cage-free (but not, it appears, free range) hens’ eggs, and some citrus. The gardens are beautifully maintained with organic compost and worm-casting tea. If you live on the east side of Orlando this place is definitely worth your consideration as an alternative to grocery store produce.

Stop #4 was another place I wasn’t looking forward to. In years past the lunch at Yarborough Ranch left an awful lot to be desired. Frozen Bubba burgers from box to grill and plated up with white bread buns, Fritos and canned sodas are just not my idea of a great farm-to-table experience. Thankfully this year someone had the good sense to make a few changes. It was still grilled burgers but this time the meat came from nearby Geneva Beef Company, an all grass-fed/grass-finished operation. You could taste the difference in the burgers! Instead of GMO-filled snack chips we feasted on fresh corn on the cob with melted butter, locally grown tomatoes, onions, homemadefarm tour lunch grassfed burger and local veg slaw and slow-cooked collard greens. Ok, so they still had white bread buns and HFCS ketchup, but I was happy to go bunless (less carbs for me) and avoid the ketchup.  I had a nice conversation with the Geneva Beef Company folks who are proud of their pasture-raised beef. You can find them online with a quick web search to learn how to order their meat. I inquired about bulk quarter, half and whole purchases but for now they only do retail cuts. They hope to add the bulk purchases into their offerings later as they grow the company. I hope it is soon! We need more grassfed beef options in this area. Yarborough Ranch still hasn’t gotten the message. They are still a cow/calf operation. I’m sure most of the Farm Tour folk didn’t pasture at yarborough ranchrealize the beautiful pastures providing the picturesque setting for their lunch were only temporary homes for the young calves who were destined to be shipped across the country to big CAFOs for fast finishing on GMO grain. I couldn’t stomach sitting around for the after-lunch speaker.  It was too hard not to get angry and frustrated with the idiot on the microphone telling the crowd how wonderful the Food Safety Modernization Act was. He completely missed telling them how the FSMA was going to be responsible for shutting down four out of the six farms on that very Farm Tour due to the oppressive restraints and industrially focused regulations.  The very grassfed burgers, hydroponic tomatoes and organic cabbage they were munching – so much safer and nutritious, and much more delicious, than the CAFO beef and Fritos served in years past – were going to become a thing of the past when the small family farms close their gates under crushing over-regulation. Nope, I couldn’t listen to his lies any longer, so we left early and went on to the next stop.

U-Pick Blackberries and Blueberries, a simple name telling exactly what to expect, is just a mile or two down Snow Hill Road from Yarborough Ranch. 500 Snow Hill Road, Geneva, is the farm address. Blueberries are setting and due to ripen as soon as our nights warm up. Blackberries willblueberries upick at snowhill blackberry vines upick                                       follow in late May and early June. Call ahead for picking days and times. Blueberries are $4/lb as I recall. The blackberries hadn’t gotten any leaves or blossoms yet due to the cold weather lately. Hopefully they will catch up – I’m looking forward to a blackberry cobbler soon!

Last stop was one place that really hadn’t anticipated the huge turnout for this year’s Farm Tour. Rest Haven Farm, 381 Rest Haven Road, Geneva, was still in a flurry of preparation activity when the first of the tour-goers trickled up their driveway. The young son, sporting a day-glo orange safety vest, eagerly pointed cars to the few parking spaces available and then panicked trying to figure out where to put everyone else. The crowds quickly overwhelmed the small table set up to sell tomatoes and I heard several disgruntled retirees complaining about the pushing and shoving and elbowing as tired tourists jostled each other for bags of ripe red tomatoes. Tours of the beautiful lettuce tables and the large tomato greenhouse quickly filled to overflowing. We had hoped to buy some of the gorgeous heads of lettuce but there were just too many people and not enough farm family members to go around. I was thankful to slip away from the greenhouse crowd and get back to a calmer, emptier tomato tent. I bought a bowl full of the most delicious tomatoes I’ve had in a long time and happily headed home.

hydroponic lettuce rest haven hydroponic tomatoes rest haven farm