On a day many journey to Tampa to celebrate the pirate myth (bordering on mysticism) glorified in Gasparilla festivities, I am on a excursion out of the city, due south to the other side of the bay. Instead of pirate’s gold and beads, I am seeking out King’s heirloom tomatoes. A modern day treasure map (through my phone’s GPS) leads me down a country road, through wild palms, and lands me at the bustling farm stand of King Family Farms, in Bradenton, Florida.
Shoppers, with the quick gait and bee-line direction of regulars, come and go, while workers scramble to fill bins already emptied by a stream of patrons brought in by the recent advertisement in the newspaper. The secluded location of the farm and market hinders foot traffic to the stand, despite its close proximity to the highway and busy state road. The ad is just the latest step in the family’s recent PR push, which will culminate in their new website to be unveiled this month. Their efforts have been designed to not only increase their own sales, but also to increase local food transparency, overall.
This new buzzword may be foodie jargon, but its quickly gaining popularity on the tongues (and blogs) of farmers, food activists, and mainstream food consumers alike. Real Time Farms was founded on the idea, and defines food transparency as “having complete information about your food: information about the origins of your food, where the food came from, and how it was grown, raised, or prepared.” For Ben and Shelby King, food transparency means inviting anyone to visit the farm, engaging with the community, and picking food fresh daily to be sold in their market on-site 6 days a week.
Housed in an old horse barn, the open-air market is full of fresh produce, including several types of oranges, a kaleidoscope of peppers, and lustrous heirloom tomatoes in the basketfuls. The color continues in a small room kept cool to house leafy greens. Purple and green cauliflower lays next to bright beets. Across the aisle is vibrant magenta and red lettuce harvesting just hours before. Recently harvested kale is replenishing an empty metal pan. I grab it eagerly before it, too, runs out. If any of the provided vegetables cause you to hesitate, there is a helpful box of recipes you are encouraged to peruse and swipe as needed!
The value instilled in community by the King family is evidenced by the various other farmers and food artisans which have a place on their market shelves. Dakin Dairy, Mixon Fruit Farms, and the Bavarian Bread Company are all given space alongside King Farm’s own products.
The market is just a small part of the 50 acre farm, which I hope to tour soon. The true spirit lies in the farmers themselves. Ben and Shelby King truly value local food and food transparency. Not only to they extend their shelves to accommodate other local artisans, but they reach into the hearts, minds, and lives of their consumers and their community. Their farm stand is open six days a week, people are invited to schedule a farm visit and tour any time, and the Kings have gone out of their way to partner with local chefs and restauranteurs, even going so far as to offer to grow to order.
It all comes naturally to these two local farmers, we grow organically in practice, though not in regulation. For them, the honest way is the best way. It is hard to imagine a better place to begin my food transparency challenge as a food warrior!
See you soon, King farms. I will certainly be back!Think before you eat – Elizabeth Murray Winter 2012 Tampa Bay Food Warrior