'Farm to table' movement keeps Central Florida farms busy

Orlando's top chefs use fresh-from-the-farm ingredients; you can, too


SANFORD, Fla. – "Farm to table" is a term diners are hearing more and more in Central Florida.

[PHOTOS:  'Farm to table' food]

The movement promotes fresh, local ingredients, as opposed to those shipped from thousands of miles away.

While Central Florida has a rich agricultural history, finding farms today can be a bit of a challenge. But a handful of small "boutique" farms are helping to provide fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs to restaurants in the Orlando area.

Waterkist in Sanford is nestled in a mixed-use residential community of multiacre lots, and the hydroponic farm grows over 30 varieties of tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and sprouts. 

Owner and grower Melanie Corun says she and her husband, Roger, started the business in 2000. They were looking for a way to work from home and escape the corporate world.

With no background in agriculture, they say the early days were filled with a lot of trial and error.  Today they're the first choice for some of Orlando's top-rated restaurants and chefs.

"We have the luxury of growing for taste," Corun says, as she trims one of the thousands of plants in her greenhouse. "We're not about shelf life.  We pick produce that is the best flavor possible, and any good chef obviously wants the best produce that they can find."

Kevin Fonzo, chef and owner of K Restaurant in College Park, agrees. He says customers want to know more about where their food comes from. 

"Knowing the farms and farmers of where my food comes from gives me the info I need to relay to my guests," he replied by email. "The biggest part is that I know it is being harvested at peak freshness. This way my guest gets the best tasting and healthiest food at that time."

You can find Waterkist Farm produce most Saturdays at the Winter Park Farmer's Market.

In Ocoee, Lake Meadow Naturals is only 15 miles from downtown Orlando but has the feel of rural farmland. The poultry and egg farm boasts a long list of restaurants and distributors on its website. 

Owner Dale Volkert says what started as a hobby has turned into a full-time job. He says chefs want locally produced food and his business has grown as a result.

Volkert prides himself on raising his birds in a cage-free environment and gives tours to promote food education.

"I think we've become removed from our food," he says. "We're used to it coming in a package."

On a recent afternoon, Volkert could be found sorting eggs in the farm's packing room.

"They [chefs] want something that's consistent, that's fresh and closer to the chicken than something that's shipped in. They like to see that the chickens are humanely raised and taken care of."

"Everything is hand-packed," he says. "So you get to see every egg that goes into the carton. We don't machine-pack."

Filling one carton after another -- it's a perfect example of how small farming can be labor-intensive. And a labor of love.

You can buy eggs, poultry and other locally produced food in the market on the farm.  The address is 10000 Mark Adam Road, Ocoee, FL 34761.

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