“Locavore” and “farm to table” are the trendy buzz words these days. Live Local! magazine goes beyond the headlines
to explore what Eating Local really means — and why it’s something we all should embrace!
STORY BY CATHY SALUSTRI
PHOTOS BY ROB MOORMAN
Live Local! Contributors
So here’s a story: A few years ago I walked into a great seafood market up in the Panhandle, Triple Tails. “What’s local?” I asked the guy behind piles of seafood, all set out in gray plastic bins and packed in plastic zipper bags on ice.
“Not much,” he said. My face fell, but before I could turn and walk out the door, he continued. “The scallops are from Panacea, the shrimp is from Apalachicola … the snapper was caught in Panama City.”
Panacea is less than two hours away by car; Apalachicola and Panama City, less than a half hour away. Up there in the Panhandle, “eat local” gets pretty intense. If you didn’t catch it, the thinking seems to go, you can’t call it local.
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Locavorism, Farm to Table and Farm to Fork may be relatively new terms to our lexicon, but the idea isn’t.
“The lives of Florida residents over 100 years ago were hyper-local by nature,” says Andrew Huse, food historian and USF librarian. “It was easy for Floridians to eat local, as they normally had no choice. Isolation and poverty governed the diets of most residents.”
“Traditionally, Florida Crackers and those who came before them didn’t make or have much money at all. Instead, they bartered staples, namely moonshine, and spent whatever cash they had on provisions such as flour and perhaps corn meal. Subsistence farming raised vegetables while hunting, fishing and livestock supplied meat.”
Back home at the western edge of Pinellas County, eating local isn’t that much harder: We just need to know where to look.
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When you eat local, the local economy benefits. But eating local also means eating healthier food, says Mary Skinner, owner of FineDine Organic Cuisine in St. Petersburg.
“You’re going to get more nutrients out of your food the closer it is to you,” she says. Once fruits and vegetables are picked, they start degrading, so the closer they are to you, the faster you’ll get them, she explains. “Something traveling from California or Washington has to travel across the United States. In that time, they’re decomposing.”
Many local chefs and local restaurants are embracing the Farm to Table movement, adding more and more dishes that feature locally sourced products.
At The Birchwood’s Birch and Vine restaurant on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg, executive chef Jason Cline incorporates farm-fresh and locally produced ingredients. In one particular recipe for calamari, which you can find in our Food & Drinks section, all but one of the more than two dozen ingredients are local.
Nearby, Locale Market offers private dining at its FarmTable Kitchen, featuring a seasonally inspired gourmet meal in an intimate farm table-style setting. And in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, the Refinery prides itself on working closely with local farmers, artisans, and suppliers. “If it wasn’t grown in Florida or produced using ethically sound methods, you probably won’t find it,” they write on their website.
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You can find local produce at upscale markets, local produce stands, and farmers’ markets. The options are plentiful: The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Fresh from Florida website lists 11 farmer’s markets in Pinellas and 7 in Hillsborough. And between Spring Hill and Sarasota, it lists 27 u-pick farms.
But buyer beware: Just because you find a head of lettuce in a funky wicker basket at the local farmers’ market, it doesn’t mean that lettuce grew up in Florida. Also, “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “local.”
“We have been increasing our organics over the last year, and it seems most of them come from across the country, and other countries,” says Michael Karakoudas, owner of Pasadena Produce. “So obviously there is more shipping involved, and longer time to get to your table. The local produce sometimes gets to us the next day.”
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How can you tell what’s local?
“Typically, what’s in season for our area is local,” Karakoudas says.
And when things aren’t in season, canning still offers a way to enjoy a variety of local fruits and vegetables.
“You can eat local all year round,” says Lisa Fulk, owner of Sunshine Canning in Bradenton. Fulk, a certified master food preserver who teaches canning, says 80 percent of what she cans is grown within 100 miles of her home. “If you’re buying things at the height of season, they’re going to be at their least expensive and most flavorful.”
For local businesses, local food is important to their bottom line, but also to their passion for living local.
“The more we can help people close to home the better,” Karakoudas says. “Support small farms. When I see the big names on organics, I get a little skeptical.”
Live Local! is a publication of LocalShops1, Tampa Bay's leading advocate for local businesses.