Last Sunday’s Slow Food First Coast Tour de Farm, the annual opening of Northeast Florida’s farms to visitors, is in the books. And what a day it was!
Last year, The Organic Adventurer had planned to check out four farms to the west and south of Jacksonville and only made it to two. This year, we decided to start to the south and work our way north. We actually made it to four farms this year, aided by the fact that their proprietors, for the most part, seemed to have opted for self-guided tours instead of the longer group tours of last year.
First up was Black Hog Farm. I was curious about the farm itself. It’s a relative newcomer to the local food movement (though the folks who run it are 5th generation farmers) that seems to have had success from the start, with collaborations with local restaurants and a brewery as well as much positive press. Not being much of a meat-eater these days, though, I must admit that the real draw was the guest speaker, about whom I wrote in my last post, Joel Salatin of Polyface, Inc. Black Hog had assigned an entire field for parking, and it was quite full. There was a uniformed police officer directing traffic and pedestrians, and we got there just as Mr. Salatin was being introduced beneath a large event tent that was filled to capacity. We joined the many people standing around the edge of the tent.
Mr. Salatin was every bit as genuine, charismatic and passionate about sustainable food systems in person as he seems on film and spoke for about an hour on the problems of our current “conventional” food system and what the alternative is and could be. Afterward, he took a few questions and was then overrun by people wanting to meet him and get their picture taken with him. His desire to get people fired up about eating locally and sustainably is admirable (and effective) but made his talk a bit disjointed. It did make me want to read a few of his books, though, to see the concepts and methods of which he is a proponent laid out in a more organized, thorough way.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to ask him what he thinks about the “celebrity farmer” label, it seems clear why he has become the de facto spokesperson for those in favor of a more sustainable way to produce and distribute food in this country.
After the talk, we toured the rather large farm where there are primarily pigs, sheep and chickens. The soon-to-open Black Sheep Restaurant (formerly Chew) and Intuition Ale Works had teamed up with Black Hog to provide a lunch. It was recommended that those so inclined reserve their lunch, but more food had been prepared to accommodate those who didn’t reserve.
There seemed to be an unusually large crowd at Black Hog compared to what we saw last year, and the food folks seemed surprised to have run out of food since they were aware that it was a sellout last year. We were surprised as well since it didn’t seem to be an issue at the farms we visited last year, but I chalked it up to the “celebrity” presence.
I had wanted to make it to the next two farms in time for an advertised workshop, but poor planning on our part left us hungry enough to briefly stop by Blue Sky Farm for some potato samples. While it seems from brochure descriptions and past news stories that Blue Sky is a conventional potato farm, I didn’t get a chance to ask around. It was here that we started to get the feeling that this year’s Tour de Farm was really packed, and not just because of any “famous” visitors, compared to last year. The three potato dishes that Purple Olive restaurant had prepared were fantastic, and we decided to add the St. Augustine Beach restaurant to our must-try list.
Hunger sated, it was off to Terk’s Acres Goat Farm. The huge farm has only 28 Alpine dairy goats, giving them plenty of space to roam. The farm sponsors a 4-H Dairy Goat Club, and its members were at stations throughout the farm ready to explain different aspects of raising, milking and caring for goats. These were some well-informed kids! (No pun intended.)
Terk’s Acres was incredibly peaceful in spite of the, again, large number of visitors. Maybe it was the baby goat that had fallen asleep in one of the 4-H kids’ lap or the unbroken canopy of whispering oaks that produced a certain reverence in the crowd. Either way, it was fortunate because we were really getting the picture now that this year’s Tour was way bigger in terms of traffic than last year’s. The tacos from Corner Taco truck that we’d been looking forward to were sold out, and there was no way we were getting near the farm’s goat’s milk soap shop.
So it was on to Maggie’s Herb Farm since we were going to be late for the “Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Herbs” workshop that I’d so wanted to attend. (I’m still looking for an herb source for that tea!) Maggie’s is right off of CR 13, and long before we got there, we knew we were close because of all the cars parked along the side of the road. The raised beds and meshed tables at Maggie’s are complemented by a small store and several greenhouses. It was so crowded that it was a little hard to get around, but I immediately went searching for any gathering that looked like a workshop. Not finding any, I asked and was very disappointed to hear that the workshop had been cancelled because they were too busy. Maybe I have it backwards but, as a visitor, it seemed that the Slow Food First Coast philosophy for the day was about education and awareness more so than sales, so the cancellation seemed shortsighted.
It was good, though, to see some familiar faces. Austin Pool had sold out of his kimchi (call 904-419-7463 for more info. and visit Austin’s Kombucha) and Marcelle Fernee, of Community Loaves bread CSA, had also completely sold out of her tasty, earthy breads. Not surprising, considering the quality.
That was all the “touring de farm” that The Organic Adventurer and Mr. OA had the energy for, so we headed home. There aren’t any numbers up yet on the Slow Food First Coast website, but I heard later from KYV Farm’s Francisco Arroyo and Vivian Bayona that they had a couple hundred visitors last year and over 2,000 this year! I do wonder whether there was more advertising this year or word of mouth from last year, or if that many more people are just aware of and interested in local and sustainable food. I really do hope it has a lot to do with the latter!