All Things Organic in Southwest Florida
Dec 02, 2014 05:16PM
Raw meal-of-the-day, Food & Thought
Carrots have always been a staple in the produce section of conventional grocery stores. Today, hoppers that venture into the organic produce section get to choose carrots grown without poisons, carcinogens, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals that, according to an international team of experts led by Newcastle University, are also up to 60 percent higher in certain important antioxidants than conventionally grown varieties. When it comes to choosing between increased nutrition for a slightly higher price and the risk of ingesting the toxic metal cadmium found in lower-priced conventional produce, what are Southwest Floridians deciding?
Based on tangible evidence found locally, we might surmise that organics are leading. It’s impressive to see the growing size of the organic produce section of several mainstream grocery chains, such as Publix and even the Walmart Neighborhood Market, as well as the local smaller and less conventional national grocers such as Wynn’s Market and, of course, the seemingly always burgeoning number of shoppers at Naples’ Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s.Add to that the increasing number of local organic farmers in Lee and Collier counties and the recent addition of Neighborhood Organics–A Farmers’ Market, open seven days a week in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt, where you’ll find the Epiphany Gluten-Free Bakery. Local restaurants such as Cider Press Café, Loving Hut, Kitchen 41 and Pizza Fusion reflect the trend, sourcing predominantly local, organic produce for their menus. Yet, that hasn’t taken away from the lunch and dinner lines at Food & Thought–The Organic General Store and Cafe. The reopening of Ada’s Natural Market, the Happiness Healthy Café and the Skinny Pantry, in Fort Myers, and the upshot of similar organic businesses such as Joyful Juicing, InnerG Health Fuel , Personal Chef Jude and Organics of Naples, all located in Naples, indicate more good news for organic eaters.
Lee and Collier counties offer concrete evidence of the market trend that represents just 4 percent of total U.S. food sales now, but is forecast to maintain a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent until 2018, according to a TechSci Research report. Organic products are now available in three out of four conventional grocery tores, as well as nearly 20,000 natural food stores throughout the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) points to consumer demand as the driver of this growth, especially as it provides incentives for farmers and small businesses. All of this suggests the strength of a swelling grassroots movement of educated consumers choosing to see food as medicine, an idea promoted centuries ago by Hippocrates. Natural Awakenings invited local farmers, natural grocers and organic entrepreneurs to weigh in on the health of the organic movement in Southwest Florida.
FGCU Food Forest
Ideally, organic farming and the fruits of its labors are having a ripple effect on the lives of farmers, as well as on the lives and health of millions of individuals. The half-acre Food Forest at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), in Fort Myers, is an example of how the undulating waves are touching the lives of students learning about permaculture and training to become botanical farmers. As these Food Foresters initiate, design and maintain their project, they get to eat what they grow and harvest a bumper crop of other dividends; hands-on learning about native plants, soil science and sustainable agriculture, contemplative time and service-learning opportunities. Once graduated, they will transplant their Food Forest experience into the business world, often as entrepreneurs that create jobs.
The Food Foresters’ active student group is advised by Associate Professor of Management Gerry Segal, who teaches courses in green business, entrepreneurship, permaculture and environmental sustainability, and Dean of Undergraduate Studies James Wohlpart. The group’s President, Arlo Simonds, is a senior environmental science major from Islamorada. He describes the program’s positive effects on students and the greater the Fort Myers community: “Dirty hands from digging in soil and sweating through hours of physical labor to grow food sustainably have altered the perspectives and paths of the nearly 1,300 students who’ve worked in the Food Forest.”
Simonds coordinates Food Forest volunteers for service-learning work at the Roots Heritage Urban Food Hub, near Martin Luther King Boulevard, supplying them with a planting guide and simple recipes that coordinate with the crops they are growing. “The hub grows fresh produce in a food desert,” says Simonds who, after graduation in 2015, plans to expand on his experience by applying for culinary scholarships or working on a sustainable ranch in another country to experience growing food in different climates. “My big dream is to have a farm-to-table restaurant or a bed-and-breakfast where I can host classes,” he enthuses.
Farther north, in Alva, the farming operations of 31 Produce, owned by Mike Greenwell, include an on-site farmers’ market and the Cracker Café. The farm-to-table restaurant serves side dishes made daily from the farm’s freshpicked produce. The 80-acre farm, which uses organic methods of fertilization and pest control, grows 70 percent of the produce sold at the on-site farmers’ market. Greenwell also purchases from other local farmers for resale. The retired major league baseball player was able to add the on-site café and farmers’ market thanks to Florida Senate Bill 1106, passed in 2013. “The bill promotes Florida’s agritourism, allowing us to offer cooking and canning classes, as well as summer camps and yearround farm tours. As a destination, we are better able to impact the health and lives of more individuals and families,” advises Greenwell. “Local organic farms give people the opportunity to support the local economy, buy fresher organic produce and receive education on why buying local leaves a more sustainable footprint. Customers are surprised to hear about how the watermelon at the local grocery store may have been grown in Florida, but shipped out of state to be sorted or packaged and then shipped back. The added travel day, as well as the packaging time means that food isn’t as fresh as it would be if it were purchased a local farmers’ market,” says Greenwell.
Inyoni Certified Organic Farm
Collier County boastsInyoni, the sixacre, certified organic farm of Nick Batty, who attributes significant growth in local food enterprises to Florida’s 2011 cottage food legislation, House Bill 7209, which allows individuals to manufacture, sell and store certain types of cottage food products in an unlicensed home kitchen. Batty believes that local food-related cottage businesses will continue to grow, along with the number of small agricultural entrepreneurs. “I’ve already seen a number of individuals offering cooking classes, fresh juices, home deliveries of glutenfree prepared foods, and still others that are in alignment with new trends such as the Paleo diet,” he notes. Batty’s farming business changes annually. “Demand for different varieties of produce grows as people learn how to prepare them, which is why cooking and canning classes are valuable. Ten years ago, kale was a garnish largely used by catering businesses and restaurants. Today, people use it for juicing, smoothies and salads because of its nutritional value,” he notes.
InnerG Health Fuel
Encouraged by the local availability of organic produce, Lorie Quinn initially created InnerG Health Fuel to fill a need at Bikram Yoga Naples. “In 2012, the studio owner wanted someone to supply healthy organic drinks for yoga students. I began making organic juices, smoothies, snacks and eventually, meals,” says Quinn. The business grew in leaps and bounds, and now largely focuses on prepared vegan meals. “My business is a testament to the growing awareness for eating cleaner food. The first year, I had 10 customers, the second 200 and now I have 400. New customers find me by word of mouth every week,” she affirms.
Nicolas Fina, Hannah Peterson and Vonn Peterson, owners of Joyful Juicing, are riding the popular juicing wave. The trio officially opened their retail storefront and commissary kitchen in north Naples in November. Their coldpressed organic juices are offered for pick-up and home delivery three days a week on a subscription basis. “Local strategic alliances with registered dieticians such as Dee Harris, owner of D-signed Nutrition, health coaches and personal trainers are helping us to build our business, which is a subset of the movement within the health food industry. Individuals who now consistently eat organically grown produce are on the early end of the learning curve because they understand the long-term effects of the diminished nutrients in foods grown conventionally,” says Fina.
D-Signed NutritionDee Harris, a registered, licensed dietician/functional nutritionist and certified diabetes educator associated with the Perlmutter Center for Health, in Naples, encourages patients to eat organically because the glyphosate in the Roundup herbicide, used to kill weeds and grasses that compete with commercial crops, is a known endocrine disruptor. According to research published in the journal Entropy by Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease. “I believe the choice is simple: pay now in the minimally higher cost of organics or pay later in exorbitant medical bills,” advises Harris.
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Deborah Post, who owns the functional medicine practice Wellbridges, Inc., in Bonita Springs, lecturers locally on why to buy organic grown food. Her recent presentation, Good Food Bad Food, at the Naples campus of Hodges University, was laden with startling statistics, including the fact that more than 50 tons of sludge that results from the treated sewage removed annually from homes and businesses is used as fertilizer on conventional farmlands in North Carolina and that more than 60,000 substances and chemical compounds are found in conventionally grown food. “I can’t compromise my integrity as a health practitioner by telling people that it’s safe to eat anything other than organics,” Post states. The consumption of non-organic foods often leads to allergies and reactions in the gut that escalate into autoimmune disease and other long-term health issues. This is one of the reasons that I find it very distressing that the USDA is attempting to weaken the national organic standards and that the FDA is moving to stop research on nutrients and dietary supplements.”
Collier Family Farms
The USDA-certified organic Collier Family Farms, now in its third growing season, is managed by Stephen Massie, who says he is learning what produce sells and what doesn’t and is making changes to better satisfy members of its community supported agriculture (CSA) program. “We started with 60 different crops. We began making changes after we saw that our CSA members were unfamiliar with how to prepare some items such as kohlrabi and rutabaga, even though we included recipe suggestions with our CSA boxes,” says Massie.
Wild Heritage Farm
The five-acre, certified organic Wild Heritage Farm has been operating in Naples for three years and is owned by Terrence Tessarzik. Until recently, they were farming only one acre, so it was little known outside its CSA members, local restaurants and farmers’ markets, but now the business is growing. “We are planting all five acres for this growing season,” notes Tessarzik. Tessarzik designated their farm as “biological” rather than “organic”. “We spent three years building up our land by focusing on very healthy soil, so we don’t have to use even the chemical fertilizers allowed for in the national organic certification program. We believe in letting the soil do the work. The growth of our business and that of Food & Thought is a reflection of the growth in local demand for more nutritious and fresh food that you can’t get in grocery stores,” Tessarzik comments.
Food & ThoughtJameson Johnson, who manages Food & Thought: The Organic General Store, in Naples, loves working with Alfie Oakes— continuing the work of founder Frank Oakes, who built a network of small business relationships that help small local business owners to grow. “Two current examples in this network are Pizza Fusion and Cider Press Cafe, which buy their organic produce from us. This saves them money, adds to our volume and gives them the freshest ingredients for their menu items,” remarks Johnson. Oakes’ standards of growing continue at the market’s growing fields in the eastern portion of Collier County. “We still place a bucket of worm castings in each row and use a cold-pressed fish and seaweed foliar spray with the perfect blend of micronutrients on the leaves of plants. We also compost,” notes Johnson. Food & Thought, Oakes Farm Market, and the growing and farming divisions for both markets are now owned and operated by Alfie Oakes. Alfie’s “seed-to-table” agribusiness model for Oakes Farm Market, in Naples, connects locally grown produce with customers seeking fresh and nutritious solutions.
Organics of Naples
Craig Demange and Anthony Calderone jump-started Organics of Naples, a home delivery service of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, using social media and a robust email list of the 2,500 members of Southern Organics, Demange’s previous company. “Residential deliveries are scheduled online when produce orders are placed. In each box, we include a product called Bluapple, which prolongs produce freshness in your refrigerator by absorbing ethylene gas,” says Demange. Membership is required for the pay-asyou-go service, which also delivers in Fort Myers.
Ada’s Natural Market
In Southwest Florida, local farmers, health advocates, conscientious shoppers and enthusiastic restaurateurs and retailers of organic food are collectively building upon the 81 percent of American families report that, according to the Organic Trade Association, report purchasing organic food at least some of the time. One of those passionate movers of the movement is Kenny McCabe, the Produce Manager at Ada’s Natural Market, in Fort Myers. “Our customers are into eating clean food and juicing,” he affirms. “Our produce department is 95 percent certified organic. I sell eight to 10 cases of kale weekly, five to seven cases of five-pound bags of carrots and between 60 and 80 one-pound bags of wheatgrass, and this doesn’t include what we use in our juice bar,” enthuses the 43-year veteran of the grocery business, who believes that the organic movement is just going to get bigger. “This is only the beginning,” he says.
Where to Find Organic Food in Southwest Florida
31 Produce, 18500 SR 31, Alva. 239-313-8213. 31Produce.com.
Ada’s Natural Foods Market, 7070 College Pkwy., Fort Myers. 239-939-9600. AdasMarket.com.
Collier Family Farms, 5321 Ave Maria Blvd., Ave Maria. 239-207-5231. CollierFamilyFarms.com.
D-Signed Nutrition, Riverview Suites, 27499 Riverview Center Blvd., Ste. 214, Bonita Springs. 239-444-4204. D-SignedNutrition.com.
Food & Thought: The Organic General Store, 2132 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. 239-213-2222. FoodAndThought.com.
InnerG Health Fuel, 239-572-1979. InnerGHealth.com.
Inyoni Organic Farm, Rock Rd., Naples. 239-980-3605. Facebook.com/InyoniFarms.
Joyful Juicing, 1035 Collier Center Way, Naples. 239-908-6879. JoyfulJuicing.com.
Oakes Farm Market, 2205 David Blvd., Naples. 239-732-0144. OakesFarms.com.
Organics of Naples. 239-776-0452. OrganicsOfNaples.
Wellbridges Inc., 9200 Bonita Beach Rd., Ste. 113, Bonita Springs. 239-481-5600. DebPost.com.
Wild Heritage Farm, 7575 Sanders Blvd., Naples. 239-248-8938. Facebook.com/wildheritagefarm.