This Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., Northeast Florida residents and visitors will once again have the opportunity to get to know local farmers and tour their farms during Slow Food First Coast’s annual Tour de Farm.
But the event is really so much more than that. Although guests may visit participating farms in whatever order they wish, Slow Food First Coast has ingeniously suggested four different tour itineraries that make the day a cultural and historical experience as well as an agricultural one. For example, the Old Florida itinerary ranges across Flagler and Putnam counties and highlightsFlorida’s rural agricultural history. One of the stops of interest, in fact, is the Old Florida Museum, which houses antiques, memorabilia and historic artifacts of Old Florida.
That sort of variety also applies to the Tour participants. The Jax & Beyond itinerary, for example, includes produce farms both large (Twinn Bridges) and small (Down to Earth Farm), a livestock farm (Cognito Farm) and a you-pick berry farm (Harriett’s Bluff Farm). The suggested stops along the way include several restaurants, produce stands, a seafood supplier (Whitehouse Seafood), a coffee roaster (Bold Bean) and the Starke Strawberry Festival!
What’s perhaps most exciting about the Tour de Farm are all of the chef, artisan and farm partners that SFFC has encouraged the larger farms to work with. Most of the farms on the tour will be hosting one or more of these partners on the day of the tour. One little-known fact about Northeast Florida’s food chain is that many local restaurants use produce, meat, cheese and other supplies from local farms and suppliers. On Sunday, chefs from those restaurants will be visiting their partner farms and providing cooking demonstrations, samples and advice. Some are even offering a brunch, lunch or an early dinner that visitors can arrange for ahead of time. For example, KYV Farms will be hosting two chefs: Genie Kepner, of The Floridian restaurant in St. Augustine, will be there from 12-2:30 p.m. and David Scalise, from the Sawgrass Marriott, will be cooking up tasty samples from 2:30-5:00 p.m. Meanwhile, in addition to touring the farm, visitors to KYV can pick up superb, locally made products from two businesses that will be on hand: Pie in the Sky will be selling homemade pies and Minorcan Datil Pepper Products will have their products available.
Other examples of artisan partners include Community Loaves, a local bread CSA (home delivery subscription), which has partnered with both Down to Earth Farm and Maggie’s Herb Farm and Sweet Grass Dairy, which has partnered with Conner’s Amazing Acres. Archangel Michael Apiaries has partnered with NaVera Farms as well, and Intuition Ale Works has partnered with both Twinn Bridges Farm and Black Hog Farm. There is so much going on at each farm, you really have to plan your time carefully!
This year, there’s also much excitement about a special Tour de Farm participant whose presence seems to be an indicator of how popular and well-known Slow Food First Coast and the Tour de Farm are becoming. Joel Salatin, of Virginia’s Polyface Farm, will be speaking and doing a book signing at Black Hog Farm and will be attending a special dinner at Orsay in the evening. Mr. Salatin’s farm has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, Gourmet, and countless other radio, television and print media. He has authored nine books, most recently Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. Most people, though, would probably recognize him from his appearances in the documentaries Farmageddon and Food, Inc.
The Organic Adventurer will most definitely be going to see Mr. Salatin. Though he has been criticized for being so busy doing public appearances and book tours that he can’t possibly be a “real farmer” (and recent press dubbing him a “celebrity farmer” can’t have helped), I basically grew up right down the road from Polyface, which is in the Shenandoah Valley. The people of “The Valley” are of immigrant ancestry. Much of their heritage is German, and there is a large Mennonite community. Valley folk are a hard-working, humble bunch who believe fiercely in what they believe, and most would shudder at being called a “celebrity”-anything. While I gather that Mr. Salatin’s family came from outside of the Valley in the early 60s, and I’ve not yet spoken personally to the man, none of what I’ve read and none of the interviews that I’ve seen of him demonstrate anything differently. I have mixed feelings about the issue. Being from Valley stock myself, the “celebrity” label’s sensationalist implications are a source of concern. Then again, perhaps it’s about time that farmers and local food systems had a representative public figure.
Either way, this year’s Tour de Farm promises to be an exciting, variety-filled event that will hopefully spark even more interest in, and conversations about,Northeast Florida’s local food system. Get your Tour de Farm guide book on the Slow Food First Coast website, and I’ll see you on the farm(s)!