On a sunny, breezy Saturday morning last week, over 80 cyclists converged on Bee Heaven Farm for the Slow Locavore Farm Lunch, organized by Slow Food Miami (SFM). The Farm Lunch combined a 7.5 mile bike ride along Redland back roads, with stops along the way at several farms, and ended with a gourmet lunch prepared by Chef Kris Wessel and Chef Kira Volz served at Bee Heaven.
Donna Reno, the leader of the Miami convivium (as the SF chapters are called) said she came up with the idea after going on a similar farm tour bike ride in Italy about 20 years ago. Farmer Margie (who has served on the SFM Advisory Board for the past year or two) was an active collaborator and gave that memory legs. She picked the farms, plotted the route, made suggestions for sourcing local food, and provided her ample front yard for the event.
The cyclists visited four farms, beginning and ending at Bee Heaven, with stops and tours at Fancy Koi 2 fish farm, Going Bananas! nursery/grove, and Teena’s Pride farm, which is known for its large and lovely heirloom tomatoes. “It’s important to know your grower and visit the farm,” grower Teena Borek told me. These weren’t just pointless, picturesque visits but an opportunity for locavore cyclists to put their eats into a bigger context. The connection would have been stronger and easier to make had more local local foods from those farms been on the menu. But maybe I’m asking for too much? More on that later…
This bike ride/farm lunch was daring and unusual for SFM because it was held outdoors and was reasonably priced. Most of their activities are meals in upscale restaurants for hefty prices. It was good to see Slow Foodies get out from behind white linen tablecloths and ride around in fresh air and sunshine for a change. But wait! Most of the attendees were participants of spinning classes at Equinox gym, not just the usual Foodies. (Donna Reno explained that they got permission to hold an olive oil tasting at Equinox, using it “to reach out to the biking and fitness biking communities.”)
A few CSA members were also in the mix. Janet and Larry Peterson said the ride was an great opportunity to visit farms that were “pretty impressive” that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. Janet explained she was inspired to seek out local food and joined the CSA after a group at her church, Riviera Presbyterian, read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. As she looked around Bee Heaven, she said, “If this kind of farming could take hold, it would be a good local food source and would stop urban sprawl.”
The printed menu had a clear, comprehensive definition of locavore.
It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores.
So, let’s look at the food:
Key West Shrimp Fattoush (Kira Volz), Hand Rubbed BBQ Ribs & Herb Tossed Home Fries (Kris Wessel), Who Do You Do Voodoo Chicken (Kris Wessel), Andean Restorative Salad (Kira Volz), Aunt Rita’s Key Lime Pie (Kris Wessel’s aunt), Strawberry Shortcake Bar (The French Pastry Chef), Going Bananas Bread Pudding (Kira Volz) washed down with limeade (Robert is Here), water, beer and wine.
Yet not all the food on the menu was local. (Expected to see tilapia, since Fancy Koi 2 raises those fish.) When I asked Donna Reno about it, she did admit that “the freeze affected availability and we didn’t meet our goals 100 per cent in terms of local.” She pointed out that the tomatoes were from Teena’s, the shrimp was from Key West, and bananas in the bread pudding and strawberries were local. She even pointed out that the organic beer, Monk in the Trunk, was from Jupiter FL. (A closer reading of the fine print on its label revealed that it was actually brewed in South Carolina.)
Wait a minute! Call it Locavore Lunch but only a smattering of ingredients is actually locally sourced? My head is spinning! A completely local meal is not that hard to do. It’s been done before. Last year’s End of Summer Brunch over at Robert Barnum’s Possum Trot was all local food and drink. And Farmer Margie held a Mothers Day Brunch last year that was completely locally sourced except for maybe salt and pepper.
Donna was pleased with the event. “We’ll do it again, maybe next spring,” she told me. Good idea! That’s plenty of time for SFM leadership to scope out farms and groves and farmers markets to see what’s growing — locally and in season — and create a menu from local food, rather than build a menu and then look for some local food to fit. I’m certain that Chef Kris Wessel and Chef Kira Volz could have come up with delicious, creative dishes based on an all-local, post-freeze list of ingredients, had they been given that challenge. It would be fantastic if the group held more events that celebrated local, regional and artisanal food, as per their own principles and mission statements.
Locavore shouldn’t be just a foodie fad — it’s not about worshipping trendy ingredients or rock star chefs. The point is to connect the food on your plate with this place and these growers. They work very hard to feed us city folk, and have a tough time paying their bills. “The only way a small grower can survive is to sell directly to the public,” Teena Borek told me. Hopefully that connection or epiphany happened with participants on the bike ride. Our grandparents knew what food was about. It was so obvious to them but we’ve forgotten how. No farms, no food, no chefs, no locavores. It’s just that simple.
(For another take on the bike ride and lunch, check out this recent post on Mango & Lime.)