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Sustainable Buzz Surrounds Tampa Bay's Locavore Movement





With flavors like pumpkin-spice beckoning from nearly every coffee and pastry shop in Tampa Bay and Thanksgiving close enough to taste, the autumnal season makes it virtually impossible not to think about food.

But when was the last time you actually considered where your food comes from, and more importantly, what its journey from a farm to your table really means?

The Sustany Foundation aims to bring answers to those questions as well as a cornucopia of the best locally grown cuisine to the table at its sixth annual Sustainable Buzz Festival on November 7 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa.

This year's "Farm-to-Table'' festival on the Tampa Riverwalk explores the value of sustainably conscious farming and eating practices, and how these habits relate to the overall health of individuals and communities.

"The overall mission of the Sustany Foundation is to improve the quality of life in the Tampa Bay area by supporting sustainability at the local level,'' says Development Director Jenna Civitello.

The Sustainable Buzz Festival features local farms and more than two-dozen local food servers -- restaurants, food trucks, breweries, wineries, etc. -- to demonstrate how individuals and families can get involved with local farms to incorporate mutually beneficial farm-to-table practices in their own homes.

Local Grown Ingredients

Geraldson Community Farm, Suncoast Co-Op, Sweetwater Organic Community Farm and Uriah’s Urban Farms are supplying locally sourced produce, which Bay area chefs will transform into mouth-watering dishes to deliver a true local food experience. The event will also feature sustainably brewed craft beers, wines and spirits. Award-winning Mixologist Ro Patel will create specialty cocktails featuring locally grown ingredients.

Civitello says the Sustainable Buzz silent auction will include "things that represent cultural aspects of the area, or sustainable environmental projects,'' such as the raised farm garden installation being donated by Whitwam Organics of Tampa.

"So many kids these days see a bag of carrots in a grocery store and have no idea those carrots grew in the ground. The modern sustainability movement is changing our culture to think about where the food we eat comes from. It's teaching us to value growing our own food and learning how to work with local farms, and even in our own backyard, to enhance our diet,'' Civitello says.

Tampa Chef Todd Bullock, who will participate in the festival representing his new catering company, F.L.O.C.C. (Fresh, Local, Organic, Creative Cuisine), explains the nutritional benefits of eating local -- a practice he believes is rooted in common sense.

"As soon as something is pulled from the root, it begins to die. As it dies and withers, its nutrients, minerals and everything else it obtained from the ground begin to leave it, as well. The shorter period of time there is from the tearing of the root until you consume it, the more nutritional benefits you get from it -- not to mention the difference in flavor,'' Bullock says.

"When you go to the produce section in the supermarket, you notice everything comes from Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru. ... Mangos are indigenous to Florida, so why are they being imported from Costa Rica? It just doesn't make sense to me when you can get them right down the street,'' Bullock says.

Benefiting From Nutritional Value

Civitello says it is safe to assume that a piece of produce with a label from South or Central America has been in transit for at least a week before it reaches the hands of supermarket shoppers. She notes that consumers not only receive nutritional benefits from acquiring produce locally; they also contribute to the welfare of their community, both environmentally and economically.

"Supporting local farms is not only good for your health, but it also takes less resources to transport the food. With a local farm, you're just going a few miles to get your produce,'' Civitello says. "These farmers often have a long history of living and farming in the area, and to support them in their efforts really goes a long way toward the long-term sustainability of a healthy and more engaged community.''

As cultural awareness grows in the farm-to-table movement, community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms that support sustainable philosophies are cropping up in urban and suburban communities throughout the nation, providing individuals and families the opportunity to develop a more organic, hands-on relationship with the food they eat.

Geraldson Community Farm, a certified organic CSA located in northwest Bradenton, is one of the Tampa Bay area’s most active community farms and a participant in this year's Sustainable Buzz Festival. Established in 2007, Geraldson Community Farm has blossomed into a thriving community of more than 200 members and work-share participants who are willing to get their hands dirty to support the local farming movement and partake in the harvest bounty.

Although the business model varies from farm to farm, the idea behind community-supported agriculture is that individuals have an opportunity to either purchase or contribute volunteer farm labor in exchange for a share in the seasonal harvest. At Geraldson Community Farms, a share includes 10-15 items, intended to feed a family of five, from a harvest of approximately 50 seasonally rotating vegetables. Members can purchase a full share, which they receive weekly, or a bi-weekly half-share.

Getting Your Share

By purchasing a farm share, Community Outreach Organizer Christa Leonard says that CSA members help cover the cost of farm operations and labor, as well as fertilizer, seed and fuel costs, which eases the financial burden on the farmer and promotes a greater personal connection to the food that members bring to their own dinner tables. Leonard says that Geraldson Farm is unique from most other CSAs in that it provides members a cost-free alternative to volunteer farm labor in exchange for both full (100 season hours) and half (50 season hours) farm shares.

"What's really great is that the work-share program is something that all ages can do -- planting seeds, helping clean the barn, weeding and harvesting. Seniors can participate, and it's open to kids, too, so it's an activity the whole family can do together. We've even had two-year-olds picking vegetables in the fields,'' Leonard says.

"It's really amazing how giving and involved people want to be. You're making a difference with sustainable practices in general, but in the CSA, you get an overall sense of real local community. I think that food equals love, and a CSA really connects that. I see these people every week, so I know what goes on in with their families and in their lives, and I think that’s really special,'' she adds.

Leonard says Geraldson Community Farm incorporates sustainable farming techniques that focus on soil fertility, such as crop-covering and crop diversity, to ensure the health of the farm for future generations.

"By rotating the crops, we eliminate the use of sprays and herbicides to prevent disease, which is what happens when you repeatedly plant the same crops in the ground. Ten years down the road, our soil will be healthier, rather than having to be added to or replaced. By managing soil fertility through sustainable practices, we're building up a healthy farm for future generations.''

Civitello says that this will be the first year the Sustainable Buzz Festival features a food-specific theme. The "Farm-to-Table'' theme at this year's event stems from heightened community interest in the future of the local food movement in the Tampa Bay region.

"Sustany shares the view that we would love Tampa Bay to brand itself as a sustainable region. We have a large network of higher education, and we frequently go onto college campuses, where it's very evident that the students want to contribute to the sustainability effort. They see it as invaluable for their generation. To attract young people, the area absolutely has to be focused on sustainability,'' Civitello says.

The sixth annual Sustainable Buzz Festival starts at 6 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Advance tickets cost $35 per person or $60 per couple. VIP tickets are also available, featuring a unique Tampa waterway e-boat ride, a private interactive mixology experience, an opportunity to bring home a bag of fresh produce from the Buzz Market, and more.

Jessi Smith, a native Floridian, is a freelance writer who lives and works in downtown Sarasota. When she isn't writing about local arts and culture, she can generally be found practicing yoga or drinking craft beers and talking about her magnificent cat. Jessi received her bachelor's degree in art history from Florida International University and, predictably, perpetually smells of patchouli. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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