Space Coast Embraces Farm-To-Table Movement
By Maria Sonnenberg // June 12, 2014
Matt’s Casbah Creates Culinary Wonders From Bounty Found In Florida Farmland
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — In the idyllic setting of Florida Fields to Forks farm in Malabar, Matt Nugnes and his team of chefs from Matt’s Casbah were busy creating culinary wonders from the bounty found in Florida farmland.
There was plenty of anxiety for Nugnes leading up to the May 31 farm-to-table event, for the ingredients were so fresh that Nugnes wasn’t even privy to the inventory until just days before the dinner.
More than 200 guests attended the sold-out, wine-paired dinner that featured a Middle Eastern cuisine theme. While the recipes paid homage to a land far, far away, the ingredients were very much locally sourced.
Florida Fields to Forks signature Berkshire pork was prepped with a dry rub and cooked in a “caja china,” the traditional Latino way to roast a pig, in this case, a big, fat Berkshire pork, a heritage breed, raised outside eating acorns, rooting in the dirt and rolling in the grass, where no synthetic chemicals are used.
“This was a mystery basket to the last minute, because we didn’t know what we would be getting until three days before the dinner,” said Nugnes.
Additional meat stations featured Katahdin lamb, pasture-raised, forage-fed lamb, and Angus beef, 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished, dry-aged Angus beef with no hormones growth supplements or antibiotics. The pastures where the animals contentedly roam are pesticide and chemical-free. The vegetable station showcased ten vegetarian dishes, all prepared with Florida grown produce that included yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, green beans, cabbage and sweet potatoes.
Mouth-Watering Meal In A Gorgeous Setting
Part of the Matt’s in Motion series of pop-up dinner events, the Florida Fields to Forks farm dinner goes beyond a mouth-watering meal in a gorgeous setting. It is also proof positive that local consumers support the farm-to-table philosophy of eating locally grown produce that is better for humans, animals and the environment.
“We focus on freshness, seasonality, local availability, and the economic benefits of sourcing locally…and in getting to know your farmers.
“We believe that local producers, consumers, chefs, and educators such as UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County, are partners in a form of community development that begins with this type of local commerce.”
Matt’s farm dinner is a case in point. The farmers of Florida Fields to Forks provided all the meats and produce utilized in Matt’s recipes. Florida Field to Forks, owned by mother-and-son partners Jan Pence and Brock Hall, is a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm that operates on a members-only principle.
When Pence and Hall launched the endeavor in 2011 at the family’s Malabar farm, they envisioned a community of members pledged to support local Florida farmers who raise their livestock and produce using “beyond organic” principles, and whose output offer health and nutritional benefits rarely found at the grocery stores these days.The farm currently counts on more than 800 members in Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Orange and Palm Beach counties.
“We expect to have a farm membership of over 1,000 by the end of this year,” said Pence.
Farm-To-Table Movement Popular In Northeast, Western States
The Space Coast seems to have finally embraced the farm-to-table movement, long popular in California and other western states, as well as in New England, where Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, which claimed the top three spots in the 2014 Locavore Index.
Eating Local Is Good For You
A week before the Matt’s in Motion farm dinner, Rockledge Gardens and the Brevard County Extension Service hosted a farm-to-table tapas dinner that featured produce grown at The Farm at Rockledge Gardens. A group of local producers, such as Funky Chicken Farm in West Melbourne and Healthy Living Aquaponics in Canaveral Groves, are fixtures at the Brevard County Farmers’ Market organized by the Extension Service.
Their numbers are growing, says Morgan-Stowell, who organizes the weekly market held at Wickham Park. There’s still a ways to go, for Florida ranks near the bottom, at 41 out of 50 spots in the Locavore Index, even though all the evidence points to the fact that eating local isn’t just good for the hometown economy, it’s also good for you.
“There are many good reasons to eat locally produced foods, among them that they’re very good for us,” said cardiologist and professional chef Dr. Michael Fenster, author of “Eating Well, Living Better.”
“There’s a direct relationship between our food, our environment, our genetics and our health. Eating locally grown foods gives us our most nutritious, most flavorful meals. Few choices have as many personal ramifications as that which we decide to stuff into our gob.”
According to Fenster, almost 60 percent of the modern Western diet is prepackaged, preserved and processed, which is not great news for our bodies.
“Any time we manipulate our comestibles in such a fashion, we add compounds that are not naturally found in them or remove parts that are,” he said. “Eating organic, eating fresh and finding the seasonal local foodstuffs can be expensive, if you do all your shopping at the supermarket,”
“Finding healthful produce at venues like a local farmer’s market can result in prices that are at least comparable, if not substantially less, than those at the megamarket, which has the additional costs of shipping from the nether regions. Shopping for what is bountifully in season can mean big savings.”
Soy-Free Organic Feed
At Florida Fields to Forks, consumers can pick and choose from a variety of produce and meats, all grown in Florida.
The farm offers eggs, chickens, Berkshire pork, Angus beef and Katahdin lamb, all humanely raised and without any use of growth agents, antibiotics or chemicals. Additionally, raw cow and goats’ milk, a variety of cheeses, wild-caught fish and shrimp, artisan sausages and bacon are some of the other available items. Members order online and pick up their selections at the farm, making for a pleasant drive to the “country.”
The farm’s 150 laying hens are fed soy-free organic feed and are raised outside on pasture, happily eating bugs and grass to produce nutritionally-rich eggs for farm members. Patronizing local producers and CSA farms like Florida Fields to Forks also strengthens the local economy, helping small farmers to keep producing the food you want to eat and your body needs.
“That’s the smiley face circle of life,” said Fenster.
Florida Fields to Forks call their eggs and meats beyond organics.
“We call them beyond organic because how we raise them exceeds the USDA’s National Organic Standards (NOS),” said Pence.
“The NOS have an exemption for egg farmers that most consumers are not aware of. This exemption allows egg companies to call their eggs “certified organic,” “pasture raised,” “free range,” and other terms that consumers like to read.”
“Yet, those chickens are allowed to be raised so-called “free ranging” on concrete floors, never to eat a blade of grass, and are considered outside if only 10% of them ever get to see the sunshine. This is very misleading and exactly why we have Florida Fields to Forks. The USDA NOS also have an exemption for certified organic grass-fed/grass-finished beef. This exemption allows grass-fed beef ranchers to call their beef grass-fed/grass-finished, even when they finish the cows off on grain the last four months of the cow’s life.”
“This is absurd, and defeats the entire purpose of eating healthy grass-fed beef in the first place. Again, this is something most consumers would never be aware of.”
Matt’s In Motion
Next up for Matt’s in Motion is a pop-up at one of the spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon at the end of the summer. Nugnes has several in mind, but the logistics of the event include a ferry systems of private boats, so Nugnes is looking for volunteers.
“Anyone who wants to donate their boat for the evening gets to eat for free,” he said.
BELOW VIDEO: Matt’s Casbah’s owner and Chef, Matt Nugnes preparing a 6ft gator for stuffing and roasting for Cajun Fest 2012 in Historic Downtown Melbourne Florida.