Meet The Farmers Autumn Edition
The autumn Meet the Farmers dinner was held at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island on Friday, October 7th. I was a guest and I’m pleased to report that I met farmers!
The real value in participating in any sustainable food event involving the purveyors of the food is meeting and talking with people who are living what us city-dwellers can only dream about. It is extremely valuable to have the chance to ask real-world questions of those trying to change the structure of our food supply system. I found each of them knowledgeable and helpful. If you’re interested in one-on-one conversation with a farmer or producer, this is an excellent event.
Included in the dinner were the following food producers and craftspeople. (Farmer facts provided by Ritz-Carlton press release)
Gro-eco Veggies and Fruit
Location: Madison, Florida
Owner: Jay and Donna Fraleigh
Crops: Heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, squash, eggplant and several varieties of bell peppers and chili peppers
Jay and Donna Fraleigh run a 6th generation family farm that has produced livestock, shade tobacco produce since 1840. Gro-eco was awarded the 2007 Florida Department of Agriculture Environmental Leadership Award for water conservation and sustainability for their tunnel greenhouses. Visit their website at www.gro-eco-veggies.com
High Springs Orchard
Location: High Springs, Florida
Owner: Jenny and Charles Franklin
Crops: Persimmon, Asian pears, chestnuts, grapes, apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and a variety of Muscadine grape vines.
The Franklins bought a 28 acre farm and started with a few persimmon trees. After a decade, it has turned into hundreds of persimmon, chestnut, apple and Asian pear trees. The orchard is 100% certified organic. The public is welcome to pick fruits during the harvest season. Check out the “U-Pick Calendar” at their website, www.highspringsorchard.com Don’t forget to stop by the bakery too!
Location: Mandarin and Orange Park, Florida
Owner: Ben Williams
Products: Specializing in fresh Florida Seafood and hard to find specialty fish.
Ben began his career working part-time in a seafood store. Now Ben is one of the most respected suppliers of fresh Florida seafood. Ben’s speciality is supplying fresh fish and seafood to white tablecloth restaurants. Ben sources fresh fish and seafood and processes orders for same day delivery. The former shrimp boat captain has been in the business for twenty-seven years. In addition to his wholesale business, Ben operates two fish retail shops, renowned for their variety. In a high paced business, Ben gets a charge with his daily talks with fishermen and creative chefs who challenge him for new fish ideas.
Intuition Ale Works
Location: Jacksonville, FL
Owner: Ben Davis
Products: Specializing in Belgian, German and West Coast-style beers.
Right, Joseph Murphy, Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island director of PR – Left, Ben Davis, owner of Intuition Ale Works
The owner and brewer of Intuition Ale Works was born and raised right here on the First Coast. In 1999 he purchased a local San Marco coffee shop known as The Grotto and transformed it into a popular wine and tapas bar. He relocated to Sonoma, California and New Zealand to study winemaking. Ben started his own wine label and produced critically acclaimed wines until 2007. He returned home and was greeted by a rapidly growing craft-beer market in Northeast Florida.
Ben attended a rigorous brewer’s certification program through the Siebel Institute in Chicago, and spent two and a half long years perfecting recipes in his garage on Edgewood Avenue. The years he spent in winemaking and the refined palate that resulted are reflected in the incredibly high standards to which he holds his brews. Intuition Ale Works Website
University of Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises
Representative: Elena Toro
Services: Assists small farmers
Elena represents the Cooperative Extension Service faculty of the University of Florida and Florida A&M University. There are fifty faculty and staff that service the small farm community, defined as having sales up to $250K. This represents over 90% of the farms in Florida and 15% of all farm product sales. The small farms team assists farmers with information and programs that access profitable markets, teach business skills development, provide technical information and alternative crop strategies. The staff also coordinates several regional small farms conferences each year.
The menu was ambitious, beginning with the reception that featured Intuition Ale Works’ Alt, People’s Pale and Jon Boat brews. All of them are up to the amazing Intuition standards, but the Alt was out of this world. (It’s no secret that Intuition is close to my heart, but in the interest of full disclosure, my buddy Cari is the business manager for Intuition. However, there is no better beer in Jax.)
Roasted tomato Tartar, Ciabatta Chip
Alligator fritter, Olive tapenade, (Parsley puree)
Seawater Boiled Peanuts, Paprika
Fish cheek Canapee
The “Meet the Farmers” dinner was held inside the Cafe 4750 restaurant in the resort complex. Appetizers were served buffet-style and included vegetables, cheeses and honey from Florida farmers, local seafood, regional meats and house made charcuterie.
Intuition Beer Bread, Ciabatta rolls, Cheddar bacon cornbread muffins
Local smoked flounder, Sweet pepperonata
White Cocktail Shrimp, Tangerine cocktail
Deep fried Soft Shell crab, Tuaca Orange Butter
Grilled Vegetable Panzanella, Olive Ciabatta
B&W Arugula & Herb Salad, House cured Pork Belly, Persimmons
Local cheese and Honey Display
Atlantic White Shrimp, in variations
Florida Beef, two cuts
Braised Kale and Greens
Chestnut Cavatelli pasta, Mushroom cream, Italian Speck
Local Vegetable medley
Apple cinnamon Beignets,
King Street Stout Chocolate mousse
Vanilla Beer Float
Considering recent Farm-to-Table offerings from other high-end restaurants far exceeding the $100 mark, the “Meet the Farmers” dinner was priced under $80 per ticket. Every detail was attended to and I would definitely recommend the experience. As an example of what you can expect from the Ritz, I was in the hall waiting for the reception to start and overheard a mother on the phone to a local bakery (which shall remain nameless). She had ordered a birthday cake that was not going to be delivered on time for her child’s party. A Ritz staff member asked her what sort of cake she’d like and took down information, saving a little kid’s birthday party. Awesome.
The dinners are not a regular event, but several staff members say these dinners will continue seasonally. Contact the Ritz-Carlton to stay informed about future events at the resort.
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is located at 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, Florida 32034. Check out their website here. Contact information and websites for all purveyors at the “Meet the Farmers” dinner can be found in links above.
Special thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Joseph Murphy and the farmers and suppliers participating.
::This article is not intended to be an objective review – it is coverage of a media event where attendees were identified as media representatives and dined as guests of the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.::
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