Do you know where your eggs come from or how the hens were raised? How about the meat in the supermarket case — did it come from healthy animals? Is the produce you consume fresh and chemical-free?
Local farmers invite you to taste the difference between a store bought egg and one freshly laid from a free-range hen that’s been roaming the hammocks and wetlands of South Lee County. Or perhaps you’d like to try “living lettuce” — so fresh it’s sold with the root system still intact. Sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes harvested in the morning may be served on your table the same day. These and many more farm-fresh delights are readily available within minutes from home at local farm stores and markets.
Several local chefs have eagerly joined the farm-to-table movement, sourcing produce, eggs and meats from local farmers to create menu items that are healthy and full-flavored. Bonita Springs-based Circle C Farm provides organic, free-range meats and eggs, as well as locally harvested honey, to many top restaurants and country clubs, including Angelina’s Ristorante, Wildcat Run and Naples Yacht Club.
“The way they’re raising their animals is nice and natural,” says Chef Steve Joynt of Spring Run Golf Club at The Brooks. “Our members are concerned about healthy eating and knowing where things come from.”
Circle C has about 1,200 hens on its Bonita Springs property, laying dozens of white and brown eggs each day. A newly opened farm store offers drop-in purchase of not only eggs and honey, but also organic beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey, raised on Circle C’s 136-acre ranch in nearby Hendry County. At that site, owners Manny Cruz and Nicole Kozak soon will be opening the region’s only USDA-inspected processing facility for harvesting both red and white meats. This means less travel time and less stress for animals before they are humanely slaughtered, Kozak explains.
New Circle C Farm products include beef, pork and poultry sausages made with natural casings, as well as marrow bones, which are frequently requested for making healthful bone-marrow soup, Kozak adds.
“It’s about an increasing education level,” she says. “More people are understanding they want to buy the cleanest meats available locally. Not only do you get the flavor; you’re also getting all the nutrients and nutritional value you wouldn’t get in something else.”
Logan Thibodeau echoes those sentiments as she mans the Grass Cow booth at the Coconut Point Farmers Market every Thursday. She and her husband, Matt, launched Grass Cow in November as a delivery service for grass-fed beef, bison and wild hog, raised on family farms in Charlotte County.
“We have gotten more and more interested in eating healthy and knowing what’s in your food and how it affects your body,” Thibodeau explains. She asserts that a grass-fed diet — along with no pesticides, hormones or antibiotic use — produces meat with lower saturated fat while increasing flavor, vitamins and healthy omega 3s.
The Coconut Point market also offers fresh seafood straight from the Gulf, local honey and locally grown produce. Better Food Farm in Estero uses hydroponic practices to grow juicy, red tomatoes and tender lettuces, along with other produce. Owner Helen Jonas sells her “living lettuce” with the roots intact so customers can place the lettuce in a bowl of water and harvest as needed at home.
“It’s the freshest lettuce at the market,” she says.
Farmer Mike’s U-Pick brings a bounty of fresh produce to market, with its local harvest available for “picking” from a custom trailer, as well as an adjacent booth space. Heirloom tomatoes, purple peppers and rainbow carrots are among the colorful offerings from Farmer Mike’s. Midway through the market on a recent Thursday, owner Mike Clevinger pulled up in his pickup to refresh the stock of juicy, red strawberries with a batch just harvested that morning.
For those who prefer to pick their own, Farmer Mike’s operates a U-Pick, farm store and restaurant on its 10-acre property in Bonita Springs: “Our goal is to have families come out and get away from the hustle and bustle and relax,” Clevinger says.
The serenity of nature also may be enjoyed at Estero’s other farm market, hosted every Sunday at Koreshan State Historic Site. For those who prefer a park setting over a parking lot, this market offers not only fresh produce, seafood and honey, but also prepared foods ready to be enjoyed for a picnic lunch.
“We have an excellent barbecue guy, and there’s hot Italian sausage with peppers,” entices market manager Brittany Petit, adding, “Our seafood vendor now makes crab dip, shrimp dip and smoked salmon dip.”
Reduced park admission of $1 is offered to farm market shoppers, but Petit recommends paying a few extra dollars to stay and enjoy all the park has to offer on Sundays. Yoga happens at 9 a.m., and guided tours of the historical buildings are offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. A free music series takes place in the Koreshan Art Hall at 1 p.m. on Sundays. The park also recently added canoe and kayak rentals so guests may enjoy a paddle down the Estero River.
“Sundays are a great day to experience all the park has to offer,” says Petit.
Another weekend market happens at The Promenade on Saturdays, featuring many of the same vendors who participate in the Coconut Point market. This allows those who work during the week the opportunity to buy local. Estero High School Culinary students also participate in the Saturday market, offering their knife skills to break down produce into ready-to-eat packages.
SWFL Produce offers another way for those with busy schedules to enjoy fresh produce, eggs and honey. Derek and Elizabeth Coquillard launched the co-op in 2014, and participation has doubled every year since. They now serve thousands of customers in Lee and Charlotte counties, delivering farm fresh products to designated drop-off points, including three in Estero.
In keeping with is mission, the Healthy Life Center at Coconut Point recently became a pickup location. Co-op members order custom-packed produce boxes from the SWFL Produce website, then pick them up at the center between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Fridays.
“My husband and I started this business to make healthy eating affordable and super convenient for busy families,” says Elizabeth. “We all buy in together each week, so we all receive a bulk discount.”
This month’s fresh produce offerings include Honeybell oranges, Florida sweet onions, canary melons, strawberries, beefsteak tomatoes and more. Discover all the “box” options at www.swflproduce.com.
COCONUT POINT FARMERS MARKET
When: Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (through April 27)
Where: Coconut Point Mall, Estero
Offerings: Local fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, seafood, breads, nursery stock, crafts and more
KORESHAN PARK FARMERS MARKET
When: Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (year-round)
Where: Koreshan State Historic Site, 3800 Corkscrew Road
Offerings: Local produce, fresh seafood, honey, cool crafts, hot food, native plants and more
ESTERO UNITED METHODIST FARMERS MARKET
When: Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (though April 25)
Where: Estero United Methodist Church, 8088 Lords Way
Offerings: Local fruits and vegetables and ready-to-eat barbecue
CIRCLE C FARM STORE
Location: 9294 Strike Lane, Bonita Springs
Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Closed Sundays.
Upcoming Events: Feb. 4 – Ice Cream Making; Feb. 11 – Kombucha Tea Making
Info: www.circlecfarmfl.com or 239.776.9054
FARMER MIKE’S UPICK, FARM STORE & CAFE
Location: 26031 Morton Ave., Bonita Springs
Hours: Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Upcoming Events: Valentine’s Day Chocolate Covered Berries & Strawberry Festival (Feb. 1-14); Blueberry Madness (March)
Info: www.farmermikesupick.com or 239.498.4576