Savoring Slow Food
Buckingham Farms celebrates fresh local cuisine
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.