Friday, May 31, 2013

Island Grove Wine Company, Blueberry Wine & More, Hawthorne, Fla.

It's hard to find dry blueberry wine in Florida. But that's not the case if you drink Kinda Dry Blueberry wine from Island Grove Wine Company, Hawthorne, Florida.

Marilynn Pinner pouring Backporch Peach wine, Island Grove
Wine Company, at Florida Blueberry Festival Brooksville, Fla.
I took a $4 wine tasting tour at the Island Grove Wine Company booth in the Florida Blueberry Festival of Brooksville. I tried eight wines on my tour. Two were dry and six were sweet. All of the sweet styles were blends of different fruits with California grape wine bases.

According to my pourer Marilynn Pinner, the sweeter styles were very popular with Festival wine drinkers especially the Backporch Peach and Blueberry Moscato.

But my favorites were the Sorta Dry and Kinda Sweet labels made out of Florida grown blueberries. Both were red wine styles and both were surprisingly complex.

Fortunately, you do not need to go to Hawthorne, Florida, to buy these wines because they are sold at many retail stores in Florida. Just go to their site to find out more details

You can also call them at (352) 481-9463, Mon-Fri 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fellsmere Community Farm Project, Fla: Edible Cactus & More

Fellsmere Community Farm Project helps low-income Florida farm workers eat better. Located in Indian River County, this four-year old cooperative with the City of Fellsmere has two sites that grow many types of vegetables including edible cactus.
Yolanda Gomez in a cactus field at The Fellsmere Community Farm Project
tour, Fellsmere, Fla.
"It started because a lot of farm workers don't have healthy food. We thought the farm workers would be interested but they work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Instead the families of the farm workers are here, so it's more of an education center," said Yolanda Gomez, one of the founders of the farm and active member of the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Newer site of Fellsmere Community Farm Project, Fellsmere,
She added that it only costs $30/year to lease a plot. Unfortunately, many people come to learn how to garden and then abandon their plot before the year is up. These plots then become community run.

The land is provided by the city, the water comes from a well, and the fertilizer comes from a horse farm and compost bins on one of the sites. Everything is grown sustainably and organically although it is not certified.

I joined a group of farming enthusiasts, on the Viva 500 U-Drive Farm Tour, earlier this year. The event was organized the Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast Chapter.

"We are very good on green beans. We are very good on radishes. We are very good on onions but we are not good on tomatoes," said Gomez to our tour group. "We can grow anything that is legal," she added with a smile.

Yolanda Gomez serving edible cactus dishes at Fellsmere Community
 Farm Project tour, Fellsmere, Fla.
After the tour, guests were invited to try cactus six ways with other vegetables from the farm. In the raw form, after the spines were removed, the cactus was crunchy but slimy, and had a slight lemony flavor. I tried five styles and left the sixth made with hot chilies.

Edible cactus made five ways at Fellsmere Community Farm Project
tour, Fellsmere, Fla.
In the future, the Fellsmere Community Farm Project hopes to expand their cactus production and have a farmers market.

The community farm project is supported in part by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. But they are always looking for support, volunteers, and new members. To find out more you can call Yolanda Gomez at (772) 571-0081 or email her at

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mid-Florida Community Services, Inc., Blueberry Pie, Brooksville, Fla.

Deep fried blueberry pies made with Florida grown berries. That’s what the Mid-Florida Community Services Inc booth was serving at the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville, Fla.
George Popovich, Diana Popovich, and Sherry Meikran of Mid-Florida
Community Services Inc. booth, Florida Blueberry Festival, Brooksville, Fla.

The deep fried indulgence sold fast and it was no wonder at just $3. A crispy icing sugar glazed crust enveloped an aromatic gooey center of warm blueberries.
The Mid-Florida Community Services Inc, is a non-profit organization designed to assist low-income families with programs like Meals on Wheels, Family Visitation Center, Children's Advocacy Center, Head Start, and Household Help.
Spokesperson, Sherry Meikran said proceeds from the booth would go to these community services.
To find out more about this organization you can go to their website
Or visit them at 820 Kennedy Blvd, Brooksville, FL   34601
Phone (352) 796-1425

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Queen Kathleen LLC, Blueberry And Honey Soda, Dade City, Fla.

Blueberry soda sweetened with Dade City, Florida, honey. Queen Kathleen LLC, made the soda with real blueberry juice and locally sourced raw-honey. It was gray colored and smelt like blueberries. But, it tasted more like honey.
Blueberry Soda at Queen Kathleen LLC, raw-honey
booth Florida Blueberry Festival Brooksville, Fla.
I met the owner, Kathy Gillam, at the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville, Florida. Gillam said the pollinators (bees) from her farm--Fisher Bee Farm, Dade City--contributed the honey to the soda ($3 for 12oz).

The honey was made from blueberry plant flowers in Florida, Maine, and New Jersey. She said the fresh blueberry juice was made with out-of-State berries.

She was also selling a variety of honey including blueberry infused starting at $2 for 2oz.

Queen Kathleen LLC, sells at many Farmers and Green Markets in the Central Florida region. You can find out more by going to

You can also call Kathy Gillam 352-518-0570 or email

Monday, May 20, 2013

Peaches of Pasco, Dade City Florida Grown

There's nothing like a freshly picked peach. In Dade City, Florida, there is a certified insecticide-free 10-acre u-pick peach farm, owned by Ron Wilson, which grows fruit from mid-April to June. 
Ron Wilson owner of Peaches of Pasco U-Pick Farm,
Dade City, Fla.
A friend and I went picking, on a very hot afternoon in early May. Wilson greeted us in the parking area with several wicker baskets. "It's $20 for a half bushel of peaches," he said, adding last season he had sold fruit by the bushel but found this year people preferred the smaller amount. 

Wilson showed us where to find the peaches, way up at the top of the trees, "Don't worry about that," he said pulling a branch down to eye level, "These branches are very flexible and they won't snap if you pull them down."

A quarter-bushel of Florida Melter peaches from Peaches
Of Pasco U-Pick Farm, Dade City, Fla.
He grabbed a big peach off the branch, "Here eat this," he said, handing me the peach, "Watch out for the buggy part. I don't spray any pesticides so you have to compete with the bugs for the fruit."

As I ate, peach juice exploded out of the fruit, splashed down my chin and nearly drenched my T-shirt. It's sweet, fresh, flavor made me glad I had driven the extra miles to get to the farm.

Wilson grows five different types of peaches. The ones we picked were known as melters, meaning they are very good to eat fresh. He also grows non-melter peaches, later in the season, that are good for canning. Wilson said non-melters are what you usually see on grocery store shelves because they last longer.

Wilson was born in Dade City, Florida, and works part time for the USDA. The profits from the farm supplement his income. He started growing peaches in 2006 because he liked the idea of a crop that kept ripening over several weeks.

He only takes cash. You can find his farm at 12119 Ducklake Canal Road, Dade City, FL 33525 or phone him at 813-714-1112 for directions and availability.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Slow Food Truck, Dania Beach, Fla: Serving Locals

The Slow Food Truck came to the Wellington, Florida, Food Truck Invasion. The Slow Food movement is all about promoting community by using local ingredients and encouraging people to slow down and dine with friends.

Slow Food Truck at Food Truck Invasion Wellington, Fla.
Chef and co-owner Zachery Schwartz, said his Slow Food Truck was not affiliated with any Slow Food chapters. It does however follow the organization's ideals of sourcing local seasonal ingredients.

Green Burger from Slow Food Truck at Food Truck
Invasion Wellington, Fla.
According to their website, Schwartz and his partner Orin Bass are both graduates of Johnson & Wales University North Miami. They worked in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami based restaurants before buying their food truck. They source Florida fish, meat and produce from local farms. And they are both individual members of Slow Food USA.

I bought a Green Burger ($11) made with six ounces of ground Florida beef (from Clewiston), bacon, cheese, avocado (from California), cilantro lime aoili,  and lettuce (from Loxahatchee).

The meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful but the bacon was too salty for me. I would have liked more lettuce and I could not taste the aoili.

To find out more about this truck you can go to

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

JG Ranch Blueberries U-Pick, Brooksville, Fla.

Blueberry picking can be fun unless you are battling with hungry birds. Earlier this month I went to war with several flocks of Cedar Waxwing birds at JG Ranch U-Pick farm in Brooksville, Florida. Adding to the battle feel were two air cannons firing, over our heads, every two to three minutes.

Blueberries of JG Ranch u-pick farm, Brooksville, Fla.
“Do you think the birds are ignoring the cannons?” asked a woman standing beside me at the u-pick welcome table.

“Yes,” said the attendant, "We will keep firing until the predatory birds return. The rain has kept them away."
It had been raining for two days, the ground was muddy, and the Waxwings were hungry. This farm was one of many they stopped at during their migratory flight.
I ventured into the field with two picking pails and met the farmer. “The biggest berries are this side of the air cannon, near the sheds," he said, pointing to an area in the middle of the farm.
I sloshed through the mud but found the bushes bare. However a patch of berries right next to the air cannon was more stocked. And fortunately the cannon swiveled every two to three minutes pointing in different directions.
I rushed in and out of the patch, picking as quickly as I could, all the while watching both the cannon and the sky for flying competition.
Slowly the patch ran out of berries and the ringing in my ears increased. As I started moving to a new area I a huge cloud of bird rise from a row of berries about 100 feet from me. Mmm, I thought, I bet there are good berries there.

The area was still in direct line with the cannon but far enough away that area seemed quieter or maybe I was used to the sound by then. The berries were big and plentiful and full of bird beak and claw marks.
With my buckets overflowing, I returned to get my berries weighed. I picked 12 pounds in two hours. When it came time to pay the attendant said, "Ah, you hear that? That's the call of a predator bird which means we can turn off the air cannons."
If you want to go blueberry picking in Florida in May just be prepared to bring ear plugs in case you get in the middle of a between Cedar Waxwings and air cannons.
 JG Ranch also grows strawberries. They are open approximately from December to end of May but call for details (352) 799-0556.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Maud Vareer, 1st Certified Uniform Police Woman of Belle Glade, Florida

Belle Glade, Fla.--Maud Vereen became the first Certified Uniform Police Woman of Belle Glade in 1958. Her hiring Sheriff told her it was a make or break position. If she broke it then there would be no women following her. She worked 37 1/2 years for the Belle Glade office. 
Maud Vereen, the first Certified Uniform Police
Woman of Belle Glade in 1958, Fla.
While still on active duty, she started the Law Enforcement Appreciation Lunch, 24 years ago. She went to her Pastor, of the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, and suggested the appreciation lunch. He enthusiastically said, "Yes."

Held on the third Sunday of May, the event starts with an 11 a.m. service in the Mt. Zion AME Church's Multipurpose building, Belle Glade, and ends with a meal honoring area law enforcement officers.

Vareen retired in 1997 but still continues to be very active with her church and the community.

If you interested in attending the event you can contact the Church at (561) 996-3804
Or go to 908 SW Ave B Place, Belle Glade, FL 33430

Friday, May 10, 2013

Natural Bar Soap Company, Dade City, Fla: Local Items

Natural Bar Soap Company really embraces using local Florida ingredients. They make lotions, soaps, and candles using Florida honey and produce like blueberries and citrus. 
Ricki South of Natural Bar Soap Company, at 2013
Florida Blueberry Festival Brooksville, Fla.
I met co-owner Ricki South at the Florida Blueberry Festival Brooksville, last weekend. She was selling kumquat soaps, and blueberry soaps, candles, and lotions made with Dade City grown berries. She sourced her raw-honey from Queen Kathleen LLC, based in Dade City, Florida.

“People think it is a nice thing, it’s earthy, and it’s natural,” said South, about her Florida blueberry items. She colored them with a powder of dried blueberry skins, and used blueberry seeds for an exfoliant in her soaps.

South squeezed some blueberry hand lotion on my skin. As I rubbed it in, a sweet scent of fresh blueberries wafted up to my nose. At the same time, a woman next to me uncovered a blue candle and its scent joined that of the lotion in a symphony of blueberry essences.

Natural Bar Soap Company started experimenting with scents and flavors in October of 2012 but it didn't go live until this year, at the Dade City Kumquat Festival.

South said, her soaps last up to two years but she doesn't like to keep them for too long. Instead she prefers to make two new flavored soaps per festival. She also sells vegan soap.
You can purchase local, Florida sourced, Natural Bar Soap products online at . You can also call them at 352-518-0040 or email for more details.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Florida Fruit Pizza, Hold The Cheese

Fruit pizzas are sweet and healthy desserts. You make them with pie crust dough instead of pizza dough and you don’t add any cheese, unless you like cheese with cooked fruit.

Florida peach and blueberry sweet pizza, Fla.
After a trip to central Florida, where I picked blueberries and peaches, I was able to get the help of my husband to create this gorgeous fruit pizza. He made the pie crust from scratch but you can use boxed or pre-made raw pie crust dough sold in pie pans. You need just enough dough for one pie crust.

If you use a boxed product, follow the directions to reconstitute it. Then roll it into a ball, put it in a plastic bag and chill for 30 minutes to one hour, in the fridge.

Take it out, keep it in the plastic and roll it out to a circle of approximately 14 inches across and  ½ inch thick. Move it to a cookie sheet and remove the plastic bag. Roll up the sides of the dough slightly to make a ridge.
For the pre-made dough, take it out of the pie pan, lay it on the cookie sheet and roll up the edges.

Place the cookie sheet on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degree Fahrenheit.

In the meantime, cut four small Florida or other State, washed, peaches into thin half moon slices, and set aside. Then wash and set aside one cup of Florida or other State blueberries.

When the crust comes out of the oven, let it rest for 15 minutes to cool. Then arrange the peaches on the bottom in a circular pattern, and top with the blueberries.

Put the fruit pizza in the oven to cook for 30 minutes. You’ll know it is ready when the blueberries get a flat sheen look to them.

Remove from the pizza from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes or serve it immediately plain or with your favorite frozen confection.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Clewiston Sugar Festival's Swamp Cabbage Eats, Fla.

The Clewiston Sugar Festival sells lots of food and some of it is very local. The members of Elk's Lodge 1853, Clewiston, spent three days preparing a local Florida ingredient for their food.
Florida swamp cabbage boiled with sausage, and made
into fritters by Clewiston Elk's Lodge, Clewiston
Sugar Festival, Fla.
They used swamp cabbage, or heart of palm as it also called. They cut the trees down on Thursday, booted them on Friday morning, to get to the heart, blanched them on Friday night, and started cooking them at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, the day of the Sugar Festival.
Chef Snook Robinson making Florida swamp cabbage
fritters, Clewiston Elk's Lodge, Clewiston Sugar
Festival, Fla.
The swamp cabbage fritters were melt-in-the-mouth good. Chef Snook Robinson prepared them using a special wooden measuring tray to make sure they were all the same size. "I'm a highlander from Indiana and I came down here. And now I'm the fritter go-to guy," Snook said smiling, and shaking his head.

They make swamp cabbage dishes every year at the Clewiston Sugar Festival. So if you missed them this year, you can catch them in 2014.

Proceeds go to the Clewiston Elk's Lodge Fund and youth scholarship.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Brew At The Zoo, Palm Beach Zoo, Fla.

Normally you'd associate the words--beer, animals, and zoo with a wild party. Well that was sort of the case this past weekend at the Palm Beach Zoo, Florida, when they hosted their first Brew At The Zoo event.

Thirsty people lining up for Brew at the Zoo, West
Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
The night started off a bit rocky when guests had to wait an extra 30 minutes to get in, the reason given--a chilling problem. Then $35 yellow wrist band came with the smallest stein ever made, a two ounce shot glass.

Zoo volunteers pours two ounces of Shipyard beer,
Brew at The Zoo, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
Still there were no restrictions on how many times the glass could be filled. And with 20 breweries, serving over 50 craft beers, there was no sense of loss.

Beer Bon Voyage tour company at Brew at the Zoo,
West Palm Beach, Fla.,
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
The fountain at the entrance was turned off, opening up the space for many tents. Some were pouring beer, some sold food, and one was selling tours through beer country in the United States and Overseas.

Thirsty guest getting a glass of  Back Forty's Naked Pig
Ale, Brew At The Zoo, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
I joined people in lines, gulped down frothy sips of beer, munched a super spicy Italian sausage sandwich and then plunged into the undergrowth toward the animal enclosures, and more beer tents.
Karen Schwartz wearing a pretzel
necklace, Brew at the Zoo,
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
Along the way I met Karen Schwartz who was wearing a pretzel necklace. Her entire family was wearing necklaces, a tradition they started several beer events ago. She said it was an inexpensive way to counter the effects of the beer.

Guests lined up for Palm/Estaminet beer choices, Brew
at the Zoo, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
I continued walking. There were people lining up everywhere, through Aztec ruins, near simulated swamps, and by animal enclosures.

Florida panthers kept awake by guests of Brew at the
Zoo, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
At the back of the zoo, near the Cisco Brewing Company's table, I found two Florida panthers lounging in their enclosure. They seemed unaware of the large crowds of people visiting their zoo so late at night.

Zoo volunteers never wavered in their warmth, smiling and pouring beer even as the clock struck ten.

Many delicious brews were served like Tequesta Brewing Co's Blueberry Saison, Terrapin Beer Company's Rye Pale Ale, and Estaminet's Premium Pilsner.

Proceeds from the event went to conservation, animal care, education, and sustainability at the Palm Beach Zoo.