Florida is versatile when it comes to locally grown foods due to the extended or even year-round growing season. At Johnson & Wales University, we are lucky to be located in a climate that allows us to grow more than 100-plus species in the edible landscape that covers our North Miami campus.
However, two of the biggest farming communities in South Florida are Homestead and the Redland. Both offer several farmers markets including:
• Upper East Side Farmers Market, held every Saturday at Legion Park
• Paradise Farms
• Robert is Here
• Redlands Organic
• Homestead Farms A few tips to keep in mind when visiting these markets:
• Arrive early. The Florida sun and heat can wilt the produce.
• Ask the farmers where the food was grown and what kind of fertilizer was used.
• Check the booths for commercial packing supplies and boxes, which could signal if it was actually grown on a farm or just purchased at a large distributer for resale at the markets.
• Ask to have a taste. Tasting the food will immediately spark ideas on what to cook or what to pair it with — and it is fun!
• Bring a cooler to ensure the products will stay cool. Make sure there is no direct contact with the freezer packs and the food, and on warm days, you may have to make several trips to bring the food to your cooler in the car.
• Circle the market first. Make a meal plan and then buy the things you need.
• Buy ripe vegetables. Vibrant colors and the feel of the fruit or vegetable tell you if it is ready to eat.
• Form great relationships with your favorite farmers. Many of them will keep the best items for you!
• Visit the farms and see first-hand how they are growing and harvesting.
• Food and cleanliness go hand in hand. Observe the farm stands and the trucks or vans being used.
• Remember that some fresh foods have very short shelf lives and taste best if they are being consumed the same day.
During this time of year, many of these markets are likely to carry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, zucchini, beans, avocados, corn and strawberries. Many U-Pick Farms in the area, such as Burr’s Berry Farm and Knaus Berry Farm, invite the community to pick their own fruits and vegetables. This can become an exciting outing for the whole family, and is a great way to teach children the importance of using fresh ingredients and where their food comes from — from placing a seed in the ground to harvesting many months later.
For recipes like Orange Poppyseed Dressing and a spin on Strawberries “Romanoff” please visit: www.facebook. com/JWUNorthMiami.
For a guide to farms, farm stores and upick farms, visit http://localfoodsouthflorida.org/farmstoresupicks.html.
Chris Wagner MEd, Global Master Chef, is the director of culinary operations at Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus. He is a member of the American Culinary Federation, Chefs Collaborative and World Association of Chefs Societies.