Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“We want to stay small and support local farmers and growers.”

November 18, 2009

Lee, Collier, Charlotte county farmers markets bloom with produce

by drew sterwald

Emily White clutched a bouquet of yellow roses in one hand and a bag of potatoes and bell peppers in the other. 

She’d just made the rounds at the Chamber of Commerce farmers market in downtown Cape Coral. With friends Marianne Masterson and Joann Hasselbeck, she drives every week from Sanibel to shop the aisles of produce, fresh seafood and bakery goods at the market.

“It’s less expensive than the store, and it’s fresh,” she said. “We come every Saturday and then go out for breakfast. We make a day of it.”

Weekly farmers markets like the Cape’s are multiplying like mushrooms. Coconut Point in Estero launched a new one last week. After a test run last spring, Sanibel’s market is celebrating its first full season. 

Turf wars are even erupting. Two markets in Bonita Springs are feuding over competing on the same day, and insiders at more than one market claim managers try to poach better vendors.

All this over fresh veggies.

These open-air markets can feel like traveling fairs. Vendors drive from one market to another like gypsies, selling their wares in tents. Musicians strum guitars and sing. Shoppers stroll with dogs on leashes.

When high season kicks in, about 7,000 people shop at Cape’s Saturday market, according to manager Claudia St. Onge.
Most come for the produce, which may be grown locally or in such Florida farm strongholds as Immokalee, Plant City and Ruskin.

“Those guys are our ‘anchor stores,’” St. Onge said. “Produce really carries the market.”

Produce also is the backbone of the almost 20-year-old Bonita Springs Lions Club’s farmers market/flea market at The Promenade, said manager John Elliff.

“The biggest draw is fresh vegetables and fruit,” he said. 

Shoppers at farmers markets in Southwest Florida now see only the season’s first offerings — the early bloomers. Growers will have greater quantity and diversity as they get deeper into the season.

A tour of markets last weekend turned up interesting food findings:

• Kumquats, white chocolate bread and fried cheese curds (Cape).

• Dried carambola stars, locally smoked pepper bacon and pretty pink salad turnips (North Naples).

• Gourmet cheese, pulled pork barbecue and hot peppers in shades of red, gold, purple and green (Alliance for the Arts, Fort Myers).

At the Alliance’s GreenMarket, Jennifer Rogers of Inyoni Organics in Naples sold arugula, bok choy, red-leaf lettuce, mustard and collard greens under the generous shade of a sprawling poinciana. Greens cost $2 a bunch; squash and cucumbers were $1 apiece or three for $2.

A month from now, she should have onions, carrots and beans, too. Planting just started in September.

“You never really know what you’re going to have from week to week,” Rogers said.
That frustrates some shoppers, especially during fallow summer months, according to Santiago De Choch. A native and organic landscaper, he oversees the GreenMarket, visiting farms to ensure vendors use sustainable practices or practice organic methods. 

De Choch also educates consumers about the seasonality of crops and the benefits of eating food that hasn’t traveled far from the field. As soon as a vegetable is picked, it begins to lose nutrients, moisture and flavor. The less time spent on a truck or shelf, the better.

Buying locally also supports the hometown economy and the future of farming.
“We’re trying to focus on local food,” De Choch said. “We want to stay small and support local farmers and growers.”

The Egg Lady vendor, for instance, had flown the coop Saturday. Her “girls” weren’t laying, De Choch said. “We’d rather not have eggs than go to a supermarket for them,” he said. “That’s what sets us apart.”

Additional Facts
Weekly farmers markets
These are some of the weekly farmers markets in Southwest Florida; it is not comprehensive and does not include single-vendor markets open daily. Many markets are open seasonally.


• Worden Farm Greenmarket: 
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. January through March at Fishermen’s Village, off Marion Avenue, Punta Gorda. 

• Bonita Springs: Locally grown produce, fresh seafood, potted orchids, cut flowers, potted plants, Florida citrus and much more. 7 a.m.-1 p.m.
27300 Old 41 Road, south of Riverside Park.


• Downtown Fort Myers: Fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, local seafood, plants, palms, fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and doggie treats are available. 7 a.m.-2 p.m. at Centennial Park under the Caloosahatchee Bridge. 321-7098.

• Coconut Point, Estero: Fruits, vegetables, baked goods, fresh fish, plants and flowers, jams and chutneys, local honey. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the parking lot adjacent to Panera Bread. 249-9480.


• Alliance for the Arts’ GreenMarket: Fresh vegetables — most locally grown and some organic — as well as fresh fish, natural salsas and chutneys, locally produced honey, bakery goods, native plants, gourmet cheese, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. 939-2787. 

• Bonita Springs: Fresh cut flowers, folk art, collectibles, fresh local produce, fresh off the boat seafood, local artists, baked goods and crafts. 7 a.m. to noon at The Promenade Shoppes at the northwest corner U.S. 41 and Bonita Bay Boulevard. Sponsored by the Lion’s Club, the market has also just expanded to Wednesdays.

• Cape Coral: Fresh fruits and vegetables, Gulf seafood, baked goods, native plants and trees, Wisconsin cheeses, fresh roasted nuts and more. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. October through May at Club Square off S.E. 47th Terrace and S.E. 10th Place. 549-6900. 

• North Naples Green Market: Fresh local produce, organic fruits and vegetables, herbs and plants, gourmet breads and pastries, fresh flowers, seafood, meats, tropical fruit jams and salsas, local honey, personal chef creations and a unique selection of upscale artisan items. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Collection at Vanderbilt, corner of Vanderbilt Beach Road and Airport Pulling Road. 249-9480.

• Third Street Farmer’s Market: Fruits, vegetables, breads, pastas, sauces, cakes, pies and other pastries, cheeses, fresh crab, and prepared foods, flowers, plants, soaps, shell mirrors and frames, woven coconut frond hats and baskets, dog treats and accessories. 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. behind Tommy Bahama in the Neapolitan parking lot between Third Street South and Gordon Drive.

Saturdays and Sundays

• Pine Island Tropical Fruit Market: Tropical fruit, plants, organic vegetables and greens. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday (also 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays June-September). Stringfellow Road at Ficus Tree Lane, Bokeelia.


• Sanibel Island Farmers Market: More than 30 vendors will have local fruits and vegetables, flowers, plants, seafood, bakery items, cheeses, jams, nuts, pasta, dog cookies and other products from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Tahitian Gardens, 1975 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. 691-9249 or 218-1055.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Archaic Revival

I borrowed the title for this post from one of Terence McKenna's books. I'm sure Terence wouldn't mind. He passed away a few years ago, but left a body of work and a number of deep, original ideas, to justify his time on this Earth, and that of several thousand of his contemporaries, left and right. Actually, just the other day I was looking for skeletons in closets, and a letter from him appeared. From the late 90's. Happy that his work was being published in South America.
Old Terence McKenna, on his soap box, a soap box of the intellect really, and of deep spirituality, railing against the sprawl, the materialism, the mega-malls, the turning of our backs to Nature.
This is where Nick Batts' farm, Inyoni Organics, appears in the narrative, because.... I mean just look at the pictures here. All this, with chicken manure, and soap water, and an old John Deere tractor and some very dedicated hands. Just look at the scene. Doesn't it awake something in you? Something long forgotten, something that you may never have experienced yourself but is in your jeans-genes? That's right. A patch of land, surrounded by forest on all sides. Human toil, sweat, the uncertainty of the floods and the locusts and all the biblical stuff. To eke, to coax something out of the Earth. The Archaic Revival.
Right off the bat, let me say that Mr Nick and his people deserve all the support we can give them, so if you happened upon this and you live in this part of the world, please show up every Saturday morning, from 9 to 1 (although I hope he runs out of stuff to sell before closing time), buy some of their produce, be their friend. Support them, like I said. Colonial and McGregor, the big park around the Alliance for the Arts, you can't miss it. So that's that.
It seems that all I say, and all I write about, is about how we've become so out of touch with the realities of the land, and of Nature, and how we need to start paying more attention to how our food is grown and what compromises we make regarding this, and all that. So I won't say anything about that now. Except that Inyoni Organics doesn't make any compromises at all, and I saw it myself, and it's not bullshit. A lot of people have PR departments working on making them look green and sustainable and whatever. Mr Nick & Co. are the real deal, period.
I will talk about how it feels to be driving on Immokalee Rd, and this happens every time I'm in that area, in fact I have a friend that lives near those parts too, who raises chickens and is the most knowledgeable guy about local insects and plants, but to be driving along that road, and one whole side has been colonized by aliens. I mean on one side of the road, East I guess, the sun was coming up that way, you have a reality one can make sense of: Florida pine forest, nurseries, farms, some scattered houses. Like I said, it makes sense. We can live with that. It's not an Eden. It's not the primeval forests that Terence spent half his life wandering into and about. It's a compromise. The US Mail gets there. You can mail-order seeds or shells for the shotgun or a subscription to Vanity Fair. You can have a kick-ass organic farm there, too. You can raise some chickens, like my friend B, and go to work elsewhere every morning if you need to. You can get cable TV, if you care for that.
But the other side of the road has been colonized, razed, it's become a caricature of paradise, a completely unsustainable distopia of golf course after golf course, all greedy and thirsty and hungry for pesticides and fertilizers and cheap illegal immigrant labor, for gas-guzzling leaf blowers and lawn mowers and all full of desperate signs, "NOW DOWN TO THE LOW 200's", etc, you get the picture. And next to the golf courses, McMansions. All built in haste to milk the bubble. All made of cheap vinyl and faux stuff and Chinese drywall, all built on a little plot carefully poisoned for generations before the foundation is laid (they do that, you know... it's not a figure of speech), all with generous foyers and family rooms and granite countertops and garages big enough for the Pathfinder and the Patriot with room to spare for the jet-ski and the ATV.
Good farmland razed for this. Native forest razed for this. Charming country lanes, old homesteads, bald eagle nests, citrus groves razed for this shit. It makes sense, if you can only measure life in cold hard dollars. If you measure life that way, you're a poor cretin. I don't want to meet you or talk to you or be your friend. Because, look at what you're doing. Just look for a second.
OK, what I'm trying to say here is that all that land would have been much better off had it been left to the care of the likes of Nick. Or Horace. Or Ken. Or any farmer with an old pickup truck, a shotgun on a rack and a confederate flag (and I hate those, the flags I mean, not the shotguns, they're OK in the hands of decent adults)
Will we see an Archaic Revival, with the whole fucking bubble deflating and losing steam? Will we see Suburbia reconverted to farming? Will our current Gulf Coast Town Center shopping extravaganza be the last one built, ever? Will we have to suffer yet more golf courses and McMansions for graying people who can't think of anything better to do than to hit a little white ball on a chemical lawn and then drive the Caddy to Carrabba's for early bird dinner?
Who knows, and the current administration doesn't have a clue. These guys, starting with the empty suit in chief (and I voted for him, so shut up), are creating Cash For Clunkers schemes with yet more hastily printed money, making all the right noises about "growth" and blowing the Goldman Sachs honchos every night, if you'll pardon my French. When they should be supporting small farmers and manufacturers, thinking hard about how to reconvert our society to something more sustainable that can survive the coming crises, thinking about how to grow our food close to home, invest in rail and bicycles and dense urbanization that doesn't require Mom putting 70 miles a day to drive to work and then drive Bratleigh around for ballet and Cici's pizza in the Suburban. In a word, I don't have a lot of hope anyone has a clue. Except for a few guys here and there. Like Nick, gentleman farmer, who I hope makes a killing at the Market and has a really good season.
Sorry for the rant, but I'm too tired to think straight. It's the best I could come up with, and apologies if any feathers were ruffled. It's all in good cheer.
Good night, and good luck.