Sa­vor­ing Slow Food

Buck­ing­ham Farms cel­e­brates fresh lo­cal cui­sine

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY ANN MARIE O’PHE­LAN

Take I-75 to exit 141 and head east on FL-80/ Palm Beach Blvd. Turn south onto Orange River Blvd., and be­fore you feel like you’ve even left the city, you will come upon the pic­turesque grounds of Buck­ing­ham Farms. This ru­ral Lee County op­er­a­tion in­cludes 50-plus acres of hy­dro­ponic fruits and veg­eta­bles, a coun­try store of­fer­ing fresh, frozen and gourmet pack­aged foods and meats, a counter-ser­vice eatery, and the Rus­tic Barn, a 2,000-square-foot out­door pav­il­ion for stag­ing both for­mal and ca­sual events.

“We started farm­ing what is known as the ‘Back 5’ in 2004,” says owner TJ Can­namela, who ex­plains that in the be­gin­ning they sold their pro­duce mainly to neigh­bors and bro­kers. “We de­cided in 2008 to pur­chase as much prop­erty as we could to ex­pand the farm,” says Can­namela. Over the years they just kept adding on and adding on and adding on.

The acreage now sup­ports a vast hy­dro­ponic gar­den that pro­duces let­tuce (Ne­vada and sev­eral va­ri­eties of ro­maine), four va­ri­eties of kale, straw­ber­ries, toma­toes, pep­pers, cu­cum­bers, Asian greens, egg­plant and a lot of spe­cialty items such as ghost pep­pers and es­ca­role.

“Many peo­ple think that hy­dro­ponic farm­ing means grow­ing veg­eta­bles in wa­ter. We ac­tu­ally grow a lot of our veg­eta­bles in a pro­pri­etary blend of Cana­dian peat

moss, Florida peat moss and pine bark,” ex­plains Can­namela, who is in charge of the farm­ing op­er­a­tions.

The hy­dro­ponic tech­nol­ogy the farm uses can de­liver the ex­act amount of nu­tri­ents, both fo­liar (through the leaves) and sys­temic, the plants need, re­sult­ing in a de­li­cious har­vest. “We have amaz­ing berries, and the let­tuce is crisp and fresh, and most of our veg­eta­bles are har­vested with the root on, al­low­ing for a greater length of time for crisp­ness and fresh­ness,” says Can­namela.

Fresh is what is served up at the counter-ser­vice eatery dur­ing week­end break­fasts, mid­week lunches and Fri­day din­ners. Pa­trons can en­joy a va­ri­ety of made-to-or­der meals, such as bis­cuits and gravy and glazed cin­na­mon rolls for break­fast; BLT flat­bread, farmer’s mar­ket panini and spicy chicken salad for lunch; and bar­be­cued baby back ribs and herb-en­crusted pork chops for din­ner.

Fresh is also what is served up at the sea­sonal farmto-ta­ble din­ner events held in the Rus­tic Barn. Th­ese are served fam­ily-style and lim­ited to 50 peo­ple, which al­lows guests to meet new peo­ple and make new friends. The farm-to-ta­ble din­ners are held from De­cem­ber through April. (The next one is sched­uled De­cem­ber 19.) The menus are posted on­line and sent to those who have signed up on the farm’s web­site to re­ceive elec­tronic news­let­ters.

FRESH IS WHAT IS SERVED UP AT THE COUNTER-SER­VICE EATERY DUR­ING WEEK­END BREAK­FASTS, MID­WEEK LUNCHES AND FRI­DAY DIN­NERS.

“We strive to give our guests a culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence that they will never for­get,” ex­plains Can­namela, who notes that the Rus­tic Barn has been en­larged with a paved pa­tio area and a fire pit.

The barn is a pop­u­lar venue not only for the farm-to-ta­ble din­ners, but also for wed­dings and fundrais­ers, such as the Lee Me­mo­rial ALS event that is hosted an­nu­ally at the Rus­tic Barn.

Wed­dings are held ev­ery week dur­ing sea­son, from Septem­ber to May, says Can­namela. The op­er­a­tion has an event co­or­di­na­tor on staff, Anna Ed­mon­son, who works with each bride to de­sign “the spe­cial day.”

Chef Ja­son Lit­tle is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing the farm’s har­vest to the ta­ble for the var­i­ous events and meals held there. “At Buck­ing­ham Farms, we have some pretty strict philoso­phies when it comes to our farm-to-ta­ble events,” says Lit­tle. Much of the menu is geared around the farm’s own crops, while lo­cal pro­duc­ers such as Sun Har­vest for cit­rus and Three Sons Ranch for bi­son, grass-fed beef and wild hog sausage are brought in to fill in any in­gre­di­ent gaps. To max­i­mize fresh and lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, the farm-to-ta­ble menus are cre­ated for the sea­son in which they will be served.

“Food can be fun, and recipes should never be writ­ten in stone. At dif­fer­ent times of the year fruits and veg­eta­bles will change in color, size and sweet­ness,” says Lit­tle. He uses the ex­am­ple of some candy cane beets that were com­ing in from the field. “I just had to use them in a dish,” he says. “Not only were they beau­ti­ful in color, but they added tex­ture and sweet­ness.” He ended up putting them on a roasted veg­etable flat­bread served at the counter-ser­vice eatery dur­ing lunch, adding that ex­tra spe­cial, ex­tra fresh in­gre­di­ent that Buck­ing­ham Farms is all about.

A coun­try store and counter-ser­vice eatery spe­cial­ize in selling and pre­par­ing fresh lo­cal foods—from bis­cuits and gravy for break­fast to herb-en­crusted pork chops for din­ner.

Buck­ing­ham Farms cul­ti­vates 50-plus acres of hy­dro­ponic fruits and veg­eta­bles.

The Rus­tic Barn, a 2,000-square-foot pavil­ion lo­cated on the prop­erty, com­bines ru­ral charm with el­e­gance for stag­ing a va­ri­ety of for­mal and ca­sual events.

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