A Garden Tour turns into a Meal and a Taste of Farm Life
Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm
We signed up for a tour of an organic garden and would up with a lot more. If you enjoy ” Farm to Table” dining, you know that it cuts out the middleman.
The idea is that the restaurant should be able to tell you exactly where your meal components were produced. They should know who grew the vegetables, who gathered the eggs, who raised the pig. The lines from- in the field to- on your plate should be SHORT!
This garden tour took it one step farther. The table was at the farm. We sat in a screened dining space looking out over the gardens and pastures. We are simulating life on the farm. The rustic dining area is attractive, “country chic.” The high ceiling holds huge fans. We ate in comfort. But if you come on a hot day, you will know it!
We are in Fort Myers Florida, where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were winter neighbors. At the turn of the 20th century, they enjoyed cool air from the Caloosahatchee River and moved by electric fans.
Before Edison did his work no one had that option. If we are going back in time we will feel it. In one direction, ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens peck at the ground and paddle in a small pond. Beyond the lawn, heritage breeds of pigs, and cattle graze.
The piglets ‘play fight’, butting heads, then drop to the ground and sleep wherever they land. Later they get up, “rinse and repeat”. The dairy cow is docile and curious, approaching the visitors and accepts a pat. The Longhorn cattle graze, moving slowly, en mass around the pasture in a preset pattern only they understand.
Old and New
This way of living and eating seems new to us. But, of course, it is old. It is the way things were all done before the era of factory farming started in the mid ’20 th century.
Now that we have efficient food production, feeding millions of people, we are having second thoughts… Too processed, too many additives, hormones, antibiotics, what are we really eating!
The question is: can we go back, at least sometimes, to the old way? Will we be healthier, will farming be more sustainable, more humane? Will we like the food better?
There are big questions. Can we afford it, even? Grass-fed ground beef in the grocery store is about $8.99 a pound. Grain-fed beef uses the feedlot, a poor substitute, but the meat is $4.99 or $5.99 a pound and we are accustomed to the taste! We know how to cook it, too.
This farm is called “Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farms”. Its promise is that healthier food for us and a better life for the animals will lead to “rosier tomorrows.”
It’s located in South West Florida. Here, climate conditions look easy but they are a challenge. Summers are humid, rain is seasonal, it’s wet for a long time and dry for a long time. Insects don’t die off in the winter. The heritage animals and plants that thrived in temperate climates won’t always do well here. There are limited choices. Some of them are hard to find.
Talking to the Founder
We met one of the couple who founded the business, about 7 years ago. They are a professional chef and sommelier and an IT expert. The farm is 101 acres of flat South Florida farmland. It is attractive with live oaks, open spaces, neat white fences, and small palm groves.
The Garden Tour
The garden area is small and supplemented by produce from other local farms. Sometimes bartering works, trading with the neighbors for honey and specialty foods. Fresh fish comes from a fishing boat owner who is also a neighbor.
There are herbs and hydroponic vegetables growing in towers. Pollinator plants keep the place buzzing with bees and butterflies. I am envious of a huge potted lavender eggplant with matching blossoms. Where can I fit one in?
Problems of Growth
We live in one of the last promising growth outposts in America, where whole new towns can be built-and are!
We are grateful for farms of all sizes. There is lots of fun to be had in Miami, but on this coast, we all say “we don’t want to grow up to be Miami”. Can we keep our laidback charm?
How do These Heritage Farms Work?
We have had domestic animal breeds since the Spanish and the English brought animals from home. Industrial farming changed all that.
In traditional farming, animals need characteristics, like being good mothers, and successful foragers and naturally disease resistant. If animals are crowded together on cement they don’t need to have those virtues. They need to be big!
Where the Heirloom Breeds Come In
The animals bred for large scale farming don’t work here! The old breeds are harder to find and while quantities seem to be growing, they are still in small supply.
Sources of Heritage Animals
The founders of this farm say that they started by ordering pork chops by mail, choosing those of breeds likely to live naturally on this property. They liked the taste of The Red Wattle Breed of pigs and chose them to raise.
Farm management, here, seems to be close to nature. Herds are rotated, they avoid herbicides and pesticides on the fields. This means you pull weeds the old fashioned way. They seem very willing to experiment with both crops and animals for the most suitable. This is important, the best farmers are innovative.
The Livestock Conservancy
This is a charitable organization dedicated to preserving historic breeds of farm animals. Its mission is to protect the species of endangered American livestock and poultry.
They recognize that rare farm animals represent irreplaceable pieces of earth’s biodiversity and offer the variety that may be needed in the farming of the future.
The Red Wattle Pigs
The early history of this breed is a little lost in the mist. I read that they are thought to have New Orleans origins. The present breed members are dated to a few pigs found in Texas in the 1960s.
The breed is well worth saving. They are large red hogs, excellent foragers, fast growers, the attentive mothers produce large litters. They seem very able to adapt to different climates and changes in the climate. With an upturned snout, they are grazers and less likely to root. We were charmed by the floppy ears.
Buying pork at the grocery store is pretty generic. A pork chop is a pork chop. I have a favorite meat market whose chops I think are the best but the flavor profiles really don’t vary.
The heritage breeds are different. Each has its own flavor. You will notice it. The Red Wattle has a distinctive pork flavor. It stands up to spices or bold recipes. Maybe that’s from its start in N’awlins!
These are traditional Longhorn cattle common to Texas and Florida. They derive from the Iberian Longhorn Cattle brought by the settlers who came west with Columbus. The Franciscans distributed them widely, every new mission meant new cattle too. Here is a piece with a discussion and photos of the English Longhorn Cattle. This is a breed enjoying a renaissance right now.
Gentle, maternal and disease-free, they adapted to Florida’s climate. The only creatures more quickly adapted are us Snowbirds from northern states!
Pasture vs Feed Lot-What’s the Difference?
To us or the animals? The animals on grass pastures have the most natural lives, and it takes a little longer for them to mature. To us, grass-fed animals can do without grains, hormones and antibiotics.
Is Grass-Fed More Expensive?
They take longer to mature and require more land and probably more handling. We are, however, starting to see some environmental benefits which may have some effect on cost down the road?
What Are We Eating?
From the grass-fed animals, we eat more vitamin E and beta carotene. There is more omega 3 fatty acid which should help prevent chronic diseases, and of course, we skip the hormones and antibiotics. There are fewer calories and less fat.
The Mayo Clinic has said, “Differences in the diets of the cattle change the nutrients and fats you get from eating the different types of beef”.
Will We Like It?
It is different. Our tastes are acclimated to the tenderness, the golden marbled fat and the grain taste. Grass-fed animals, move more, the meat is not going to be as tender. People will say it is “more meaty, more minerally, or more gamey”.
A Story About Making the Transition
I read about an American guy who did not like the grass-fed taste, he moved to Ireland for a few years and back to the US. Now he complains that he is having trouble acclimating from the Irish grass-fed beef back to our grain-fed products!
Do You Cook it Differently?
You cook grain-fed meats more quickly. Reduce the cooking time by 30%. Avoid the microwave. Use marinades, cook in fats, olive oil or butter. Think of ways to add moisture to this lean meat. As an example, hamburgers cooked with onion are more moist.
At The Restaurant or Store
Experts tell us to start with ground beef. It an easy preparation to keep moist. We ate this at Rosy Tomorrows’ restaurant. Spaghetti Bolognese was a very good dish. I did not notice dryness, only flavor.
This poultry spends its daylight hours on pasture. It is entertaining to watch them in their small pond. The eggs are bright yellow, a clear sign of freshness.
If you take eggs home from the farm, take note of the fact that very fresh eggs have cloudy whites because they naturally contain carbon dioxide which gradually escapes through the shell. The cloudiness is not a problem, it’s a sign of freshness.
Enjoy the fresh eggs. If making a recipe check for the effect of age. For example, older eggs are easier to use in meringues.
New Experiment With Turkeys
The farm is testing a small flock of turkeys. They foraged near a shaded area of the restaurant. I would love to have a source of farm-fresh poultry. However, I read that it is difficult to produce these at a reasonable price.
For example, I was excited to find a source of a fresh, heritage turkey for last Thanksgiving, It sounded tasty, but came at a cost of over $100.00 and a two-hour drive. The farm did have a waiting list. I hope they can make it work!
Our group of four ordered from a varied menu of 16 main dishes. The menu is on paper, it changes often. If you subscribe to the email list they will send it to you. The offerings ranged from salads and breakfast items to a huge pork chop!
We ordered the Charcuterie and Cheese plate, Beef Bolognese and true southern Shrimp and Grits which came with a brilliant yellow duck egg! We felt that the wine list was original for the price and it was pleasant to watch the cooks through the window.
At the helm in the visible kitchen, is a well regarded local chef whose food we would certainly eat again.
Farm to Table; a Fad or a Trend
There are good arguments on both sides. A food critic from the Boston Globe claims that this is a fad of Millenials, that they are as obsessed with food as the Boomers were with drugs!
On the other hand, the Slow Food Movement is now 30 years old. It was started in Italy during a time of economic growth and people developed a taste for convenience foods. The movement was designed to bring people back to nature.
I remember seeing the late great chef Marcella Hazan speak in St Petersburg Florida. She talked about coming to America, from Italy, as a young woman. She was shocked by our grocery stores. She said the meats in plastic and saran wrap looked like a “dead animal museum”.
One of the biggest impediments to success is the fact that we love the idea of sustainable and healthy fresh food. We just don’t like the price!
This leads to problems. Food fraud is a big issue today. We trust restaurants and farmers’ markets which promise local fish, meat, produce and at commercial prices. Sometimes we fool ourselves! We may be the most to blame.
The Tampa Bay Times in its groundbreaking series on local food fraud tells revealing stories. My personal favorite is not one of the many tales of restaurants promising local hand-raised products and delivering imported grocery store goods.
The most revealing story is that of a restaurant selling “genuine” Maine Lobster rolls with coleslaw, for $9.99 and diners being angry and surprised to discover that it was imported fish and unpronounceable additives!
What Can We Do
We need to use common sense and technology to control costs. The founder of the Slow Food movement said that we could eat healthy without raising prices. His thought was that we should eat local and seasonal. He expected that if you live in a rice-growing region you would eat rice and not buy out of season food.
The Harvard School of Public Health Weigh’s in
The Harvard School of Public Health has performed the first study I can find which quantifies the cost of a healthy diet. They have calculated that a healthy, varied diet of less processed food costs a single person more money! $1.50 per day. We can weigh that against the cost of disease.
Will we do it? We like choices, we don’t like to be limited. Something has got to give or we’ll stay with the feedlots and the old eggs and imported tomatoes.
Will we spring for the $547.50 per year?
How to Visit Rosy Tomorrows Farm
Learn More: This information is per our visit. Check the website for up to date information.
Location: 8250 Nalle Grade Road, North Fort Myers, Florida
Opening Days and Hours: Thursday: 10-3; Friday: 10-9, Saturday: 11-3, Sunday: 10-3.
What to See/Costs: Farm tours are $10.00, adults and $7.00 children. (This is charged only if you do not have a meal.)
Lunches and Friday Dinner, reservations are required and allow you to visit the animals.
The farm offers a CSA membership- $100.00 per year and includes a 10% discount and priority service on food purchases.
Bibliography: Some good sources you might like.
Farm to Fable: Tampa Bay Times series on food fraud.
Harvard School of Public Health Study: Eating Healthy Costs