Five Ways to Score South Florida-Grown Produce

For more on South Florida's food scene, check out New Times' Taste guide, hitting newsstands Thursday, February 21.

The idea of eating locally grown produce is all well and good, but when it boils down to a busy day, a rumbling stomach, and an empty fridge, it can be tough to make educated, responsible food choices rather than run shamefully into the arms of Papa John.

But there are some easy ways to commit to local produce in Broward and Palm Beach -- eaters just have to know where to look. Making these choices helps fund local farmers and supports a more sustainable future -- not to mention encourages healthy eating habits. A win-win-win. So when it comes to going locavore, here are some simple options:

Join a farm share program. The Urban Farmer, a patio market on Powerline Road, offers half and full shares of local produce available for weekly or biweekly pickup. A half runs $32 and a full $58 per pickup, and buyers can expect everything from broccoli and tomatoes to kale and kolrabi. All choices are based on seasonality and come from farms hand-selected by owner Stephen Hill and his wife.

"Part of the local farming challenge is doing it profitably for everybody," says Hill. "That's kind of our mission. Community gardens are great, but if this is going to work, it has to be sustainable. That means people involved in it have to make a living, get health insurance, et cetera. We believe we add a real value."

Customers can pick up their goodies at the Urban Farmer's patio market on Friday or Saturday or at several satellite locations. They ask for a four-pickup commitment, but buyers can pause their pickups as necessary. The market is located at 3195 N. Powerline Road, Ste. 101, in Pompano Beach. Visit theurbanfarmerflorida.com, or call 954-586-6686.

Eat at a restaurant with locally sourced food. Fort Lauderdale's Market 17 rewrites its menu based on what's available locally. So while diners may have to avoid attachment to a favorite dish, they're doing their part to support local farmers, seasonal agriculture -- and their own healthy eating habits. It definitely helps when everything's delicious.

South Florida-raised executive chef Lauren DeShields says the restaurant sources from multiple local farms, including Fort Lauderdale Vegetables, Paradise Farms, and Marando Farms.

"Our menu changes daily depending on what the farmers have. Basically at the end of the night, I sit down with my sous chef and we talk about what we have and write the menu accordingly," DeShields says. "It keeps it fresh and exciting. It's great to be able to use all different products and not just do the same thing every single day."

Diners can hit up Market 17 for dinner at 1850 SE 17th St. in Fort Lauderdale. Visit market17.net, or call 954-835-5507.

Grow an edible garden on your patio. In addition to its farm share options, the Urban Farmer sells home garden systems for those in urban environments. Part of Hill's mission as a farmer is to instruct people on gardening in their own right too.

One option is the soil-based, self-watering Earthbox ($59.95), a terra cotta box that uses a capillary system to keep plants hydrated and the roots bathed in nutrients. The Urban Farmer also sells Verti-Gro, a vertical hydroponic system composed of white styrene pots. A single tower recirculating system can support up to 20 plants in a single square yard of space ($229.95). Both work great for patios and backyards.

"It's kind of a no-brainer; follow the instructions and you'll do pretty well with these things. You don't have to worry about if your soil's any good," Hill says. Both systems can be purchased at the Urban Farmer's Powerline Road location.

Volunteer at a community garden. Community gardens tend to vary when it comes to output and effectiveness, but the Gray Mockingbird in Lake Worth is a model of innovation and efficiency, growing a little bit of a lot of things. From beehive cultivation and canning seminars to 40 types of herbs and hydroponic techniques, the green space is being put to wise use by community groups and individuals. It's even planning an edible living wall to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Lake Worth.

Gardeners can score their own four-by-ten-foot raised bed plot for $80 a year, or they can come out and volunteer in the community sections for free. And volunteers don't go away empty-handed -- they can expect to head home with some fresh goodies.

"Anybody that does gardening, whether they have their own garden at home or want to work with people, we give them the opportunity to come over to our place to meet different people," says Brian Kirsch, garden organizer. "They can garden there or at home or whatever. The whole thing is to get people to start growing their own food, basically so they can taste what a tomato really tastes like again."

Gray Mockingbird is located adjacent to the Scottish Rite Masonic Center at 2000 N. D St. in Lake Worth. The garden's land is donated by the Scottish Rite, and 10 to 15 percent of its output goes to feed the hungry locally. It also offers community service hours for students or those on a court order. Visit facebook.com/GrayMockingbird, or email briankirsch7@gmail.com.

Ask where your food comes from. Be it at the supermarket, the corner store, or the local diner -- eaters have every right to know where their edibles originated. So ask!

"Is this food local? Where can I get local food? Ask that question. Is this food from Florida? Is the grouper from the area?" says Michael Madfis, owner of Fort Lauderdale Vegetables Farm and an advocate for locally sourced food and decentralized farming. "The more people ask that question and think about it, it will encourage restaurants and markets to move in that direction, which is really a big part of it."

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