Monday, April 30, 2012

From Grist Mill To Loaf Pan: Florida Style

There's nothing like baked bread made with freshly ground wheat. Steve Melton a Dade City, Florida, farmer knows all about this. He has a 1918 grist mill in his machinery museum that he uses to grind wheat and corn into flour for bread making.

Back in January, the day before AgriTunity (an agricultural show), I went on a tour with a group of Central Florida farm enthusiasts. The day had been organized by AgriTunity staff.

The first stop was at Melton's farm, for a tour of his machinery museum and a demo of a working grist mill. He mentioned something about possibly giving away free flour samples at the end.

With the help of an audience member, Melton climbed on top of the grist mill and poured in scoopfuls of winter wheat. Then he walked across the museum to his "hit and miss," gas engine.

"It has a unique sound because it is the earliest gas engine ever made," he told us, as he put on a pair of leather gloves. He explained it had an open piston system which meant you could right into the engine.

Steve Melton starting oldest grist mill's gas turbin engine,
Melton's Machinery Museum, Dade City, Fla.

He then grabbed the fly wheels, one per hand, and rotated them towards himself. Nothing happened.
He did it again, and again. On the fifth try, the engine sputtered and Melton said, "It might go this time," and he was right.

The engine roared to life, the fly wheels spun, the belts tugged, and the grist mill stones turned, grinding the wheat into flour.

1918 grist mill grinding wheat at Melton's Machinery Museum,
Dade City, Fla.

Melton walked back to the other side of the mill where a large sieve was suspended over three bins. Above the sieve was a wooden ramp, and opening with fresh flour pouring out.
Flour falling through sieve to bins below of 1918 grist mill
at Melton's Machinery Museum, Dade City, Fla.

With a large brush, he pushed the flour over three grades of mesh on the sieve, explaining they helped seperate the wheat germ from the flour.

Half-way through, Melton grabbed a handful of flour and showed it to the audience. The tour guide suddenly called out for everyone to return to the bus, we were out of time. So, no free samples of flour to take home.

The next day, at the AgriTunity Show, Melton said he had something for me outside at his interactive museum display. I followed him and he handed me three paper bags.

Three grades of flour from Steve Melton's 1918 Grist Mill,
Dade City, Fla.

Each was filled with a different grade of flour. He decided to finish grinding the bag of wheat from the day before. He asked me to make a loaf of bread at home and write a review of it. I thanked him, and said I would.

A week later, my husband, the bread maker in the family, made a loaf of bread out of Melton's flour and Melton's cane syrup. It was delicious with a sweet, earthy, chewy texture.

Now, it is hard for me to eat any other bread without comparing it to that amazingly loaf made with freshly ground wheat. I hope the next time I visit Steve Melton, I can get some more flour from that old grist mill.

To find out more about Melton's Machinery Museum, go to

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pomegranates at Seeds of Hope Community Garden, Fla.

Seeds Of Hope Community Garden in Lake Park, Florida, grows pomegranates in sand.

They use some good organic fertilizer and then leave the plants alone. They call the pomegranate a no maintenance plant.

Pomegranates have a leathery skin surrounding multitudes of red, juicy covered seeds. They are a favorite fruit for December holiday celebrations.

Seeds of Hope Community Garden has 10 by 20ft plots available.
Call Erin at 561-252-7179 for more information.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keep Your Nose To The Grindstone: Origins

You ever wonder where the expression, keep your nose to the gindstone, came from? Steve Melton, a farmer and collector of antique farm equipment, Dade City, Florida, explained.

Steve Melton, Dade City, Fla., standing infront of grist mill
explaining origins of the expression
Keep Your Nose To The Grindstone

He said it started in the Grist mill industry. Grist Mills use two large grind stones to convert grains into flour. And if the stones rub together they can get dull and smell. he explains it better in the clip below.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Pero Family Farms, Boynton, Fla: Hosts Chefs Meeting

Pero Family Farms played host to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) April meeting. Located in Boynton Beach, Florida, Pero Family Farms (known for their peppers) was the perfect place for such an event.

Food sculpture at Pero Family Farms, ACF meeting,
Boynton Beach, Fla.

The ACF general business meeting was followed by a talk from Pero's Chief Sales Officer: Nick Bergstrom. He showed the audience a very informative film about the history of Pero Family Farms. He said Pero had several farms up the Eastern part of the United States and growing schedules moved with the seasons.

Nick Bergstrom of Pero Family Farms, ACF meeting,
 Boynton Beach, Fla.

Jan Costa was next, and got up to talk about his company: Florida Fresh Meats Company. His business started in 2008, under the lable Florida Glatt Kosher meats, as the only kosher slaughterhouse in Florida. He has now branched out and sells grass-fed meat products.

R. Francesca, Jan Costa, and Chef Alan Lazar,
Pero Family Farms, ACF meeting,
Boynton Beach, Fla.

After all the talking and listening, by the audience, everyone was hungry. The focus of the dishes were either peppers, Florida grass-fed beef, or some combination of the two. There were even carved pepper sculptures. 

ACF Chefs having a snack after the meeting,
Pero Family Farms, Boynton Beach, Fla.

To learn more about the American Culinary Federation got to

Friday, April 20, 2012

Melton's Machinery Museum: Preserving Agricultural History

Florida farmer, Steve Melton, collects antique agricultural machinery in Dade City, Florida. Melton mixes interesting historical facts with funny personal stories.

Steve Melton, farmer and collector of antique farm equipment,
Melton's Machinery Museum, Dade City, Fla.

He passion for old machinery goes beyond the collection process. He restores each piece to working order, places them carefully in his museum, and takes people on walking tours of his collection.

Back in January, I joined 30 or so people on a AgriTunity pre-show farm trip to Melton's Machinery Museum. It was very wet and cold the day of the tour but Melton's glowing personality soon warmed us up.

Other agricultural machinery items, Melton's Machinery Museum,
Dade City, Fla.

His museum included many machines from the turn of the 20th Century as well as some before. There were hand-cranking ones for corn processing and gas powered ones for flour milling. There was even a 25-foot or so, tomato harvesting machine that Melton said he had not got out of fourth gear because it was too scary a ride.

Tomato harvesting machine at Melton's Machinery Museum,
Dade City, Fla.

In another shed, he had a sugar cane production area where he boiled down the juice from crushed sugar cane to make cane syrup. He had bottles for sale at $5 each.

Sugar cane juice boiler, Melton Machinery Museum,
Dade City, Fla.

He even has the trunk of an old turpentine tree. He said, it was the number one industry in Florida at the turn of the last century but was lost when gasoline came into use.

Steve Melton pointing to turpentine tree
Melton's Machinery Museum,
Dade City, Fla.

If ever you ever find yourself in Dade City, look up Steve Melton. Set aside an afternoon to tour his Machinery Museum and talk to him. He is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. His website has more information

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Green Coconut Water: South Florida Style

I'm lucky to live in South Florida. The sub-tropical climate allows my neighbors to grow coconut trees.

Florida grown coconut tree

Recently, one of  my neighbors got her trees trimmed and all the coconuts landed up in one large pile in the street. She encouraged me to take as many as I wanted.

Florida grown green coconuts piled in the street

I gathered my portion and cracked them open, one-by-one, pouring out huge quantities of refreshing green coconut water. It's high in Potassium and a great drink to consume after working-out.

Florida grown green coconut water and ice

Some coconuts even had coconut jelly/young meat inside, my favorite part.

Florida green coconut jelly/young flesh

This time, I discovered a curious side effect of drinking fresh green coconut water--increased sense of taste.

If ever you get the chance to try some fresh green coconut water, test to see if it changes your sense of taste and let me know.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Locally Sourced Easter Lunch: Florida Style

In keeping with the theme of sourcing local Florida ingredients, this year's Easter meal was mostly local except for the lamb, potatoes, and oil.

The semi-dry red wine was Alva Rouge by Eden Vineyards (Alva), yellow heirloom tomatoes from Farmhouse Tomatoes (Boynton Beach), fresh mint from Seed-To-Bloom (Loxahatchee), ginger jelly from Ginger's Jams, Jellies and Such (Winter Park), and carrots from Belle Glade.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ben Hewitt Speaks at AgriTunity 2012, Sumter County, Fla.

Ben Hewitt, author and farmer, spoke this year at AgriTunity in Sumter County, Florida. His speech, "The Future's In The Dirt," was about the inspirational journey of Hardwick, Vermont, and how it relates to the rest of the country.

His talk included the history of Hardwick, and his Four Commandments Of Local Food: (1) It shall feed the LOCALS; (2) it shall be CIRCULAR; (3) It shall be based on SUNSHINE; (4) It shall offer viability to PRODUCERS.

Before he could expand much on these points, he stopped to give his opinion about Big Agriculture.

"Even though I am an advocate for small scale diversified agriculture. I want to make it perfectly clear. I believe very much that we need large scale agriculture in this country. We'd be in deep do-do without it...I'm not framing this issue as us against them. I think there is a real opportunity for us to help small struggling rural communities by working towards more recognized food systems. But we still need big farmers.

"My Grandfather was a commodity farmer in Iowa. I think oftentimes this issue is framed as the people that are doing big scale commodity agriculture are bad people. I hate this...Farmers in this country, whether they're farming thousands of acres or an acre, almost ubiquitously care about the people they're feeding."

He also talked about how diversity encourages collaboration amongst producers.

"If they're not always in competition with each other then they feel like they are collaborate. In Hardwick, there's an immense amount of collaboration among the small scale Ag producers...They work together...loaning each other workers and sometimes money. There's been half a million dollars that has informally changed hands in that town..."

He had an nontraditional idea of how food should be priced.

"I don't think food should be cheap...I think food should be priced at what it really costs to produce food that is healthy...and produced in a way that is respectful to the environment, and to the workers who are producing it. That's what food should cost..."

He also showed some tourism dollar statistics and equated them to the agricultural area.

"Part of creating an honest food economy means that these jobs aren't necessarily horrible jobs...The producers in our region are generally starting people at twelve bucks an hour...and everyone is making well above what would be considered a livable wage..."

He finished by talking about value added agriculture.

"Instead of thinking about what is it going to cost? What are we going to have to give up? Let's think about the status quo in this country. What's going on in this country right now...This is not a partisan issue...You can acknowledge, we have a problem right now particularly in our rural communities...I want people to think, what is the challenge going to be if we keep going down this same course..."

AgriTunity is an annual event in Florida where farmers, scientists, and the public get to mingle. It is held every year on the Sumter County Fairgrounds, on the last weekend of January. The University of Florida (UF) organizes and collaborates with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension Offices of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Pasco, and Sumter County. It includes an trade show, outside displays, workshops, and amazing key note speakers.

To find out more about this event go to the Sumter County UF/IFAS extension office at

Thursday, April 5, 2012

710 U-Pick It Farm, Okeechobee, Fla: Sweet Tomatoes & More

Do you remember when tomatoes tasted like fruit? I do, and this past weekend I got to pick some fruity tasting tomatoes at 710 U-Pick Farm in Okeechobee, Florida.

Entrance to 710 U-Pick Farm, Okeechobee, Fla.
It was scorching hot when I turned into the colorfully flagged U-Pick Lane. A short dive down a dirt road brought me to an open-aired shack surrounded by cars. I walked in and saw bins filled with fresh vegetables. A man behind the counter was telling customers the best place to pick cucumbers. He suggested they drive their car into the field.

Open-aired shed at 710 U-Pick Farm, Okeechobee, Fla.
There were big buckets, about the size of industrial paint tubs, stacked near the register. I grabbed one, and said I was interested in u-pick vegetables, especially tomatoes and zucchinis.

The counter man said, "Well there's already a lot of people going down that road," pointing to a road near the entrance, "So you better go down that road," he said, pointing to another road at the back of the farm. He directed me to turn left at the end of it and go all the way down to a fence. "It'll be the best place to pick," he said, handling me a knife.

Zucchini fields at 710 U-Pick Farm, Okeechobee, Fla.
I thanked him, went back to my car, climbed in and drove to his suggested point. Then I took a big swig of water, slapped on some sunscreen, and climbed out onto the sun baked field near the zucchini plants. It was even hotter that it had been by the shed. I like small zucchinis because they're the sweetest tasting and I was happy to see there were many to pick.

Vine ripened tomatoes, 710 U Pick It Farm,
Okeechobee, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by A. G. James
Then I drove to the tomato fields. There were cherry, plum, and larger fruit. Unfortunately, not many of the cherry tomatoes were ripe. Still, I managed to pick close to three pounds of the other varieties.

I drove back to the shed, and was pleasantly surprised to find out the zucchini were just $0.69/lb and the tomatoes $0.89/lb.

When I got home, I had another pleasant surprise. The regular sized tomatoes had an incredibly sweet, floral flavor reminding me of my childhood. They were the best tomato I had eaten in years.

710 U-Pick Farm uses organic growing methods and is open most days during daylight hours from sunrise to sunset. The growing season is from November to May. Their address: 25801 Warfield Boulevard (also SR 710), Okeechobee, FL 34974

They grow many types of vegetables but you have to call to find out what's available: 772-597-4510.