This newspaper has published for almost a year now — and I've done this column for the same amount of time — so it seems like a good time to reflect on the most interesting things I've learned about Central Florida agriculture.
I trust that you have read my column religiously, but unless you have saved and laminated each column (er, thanks Mom), I doubt these facts will stick out in your mind. So let's review.
1. Buying local is great — but not always possible. I hate to say it because I want to support local agriculture as much as I can, but it's just not practical all the time. Sure, we here in Florida can make an easier time of buying local in the winter, when a good majority of the U.S. produce is grown here, but the summer has some slim pickin's except for maybe watermelon, limes and avocadoes.
My strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, greens, and a few other items have all come from outside the state this summer. Perhaps others can make "buy local" work year-round, but my new philosophy is to buy local as often as I can — and not feel too guilty when I can't.
2. Buying local ag products is fun and tasty — but it takes a little more time and money. It would be easier to write this column thus far merely by purchasing some tomatoes or citrus products at my local Walmart.
However, I have had to visit numerous area supermarkets, roadside stands and ag businesses to discover more about what's grown in the state.
Granted, the larger supermarkets make efforts to sell local products — some more than others — but you usually have to travel a little further or pay a little more to get the best-tasting items.
With the kind of writing I do, I don't mind going out of my way to buy these products, but I know I may be the exception. It'd be nice if consumers generally didn't have to travel so many places to buy the best local ag products.
3. Those working in agriculture are a dedicated bunch. I'm not saying this just to get on the good side of my sources. I can't tell you the number of times I've called people for stories and they are out in the fields, in their trucks making deliveries or chatting with customers while also answering my probing questions.
Thankfully, my sources for the honey and beekeeping column did not try to tend to their hives while also talking to me. That could have been a painful conversation.
4. Our ag-culture in Central Florida is an anomaly compared with urban areas. Those of you who come from farming backgrounds in other states probably are aware of this, but that was news for me.
Where I grew up in a suburban/urban area, growing produce or raising cattle was a quaint idea done about an hour or two out of the city. I felt little connection between that and what we bought at the supermarket. Here, it's in front of us at all times.
Our relationship with agriculture in Florida connects with so many other parts of our lives, including local jobs, what our newspapers cover and how land is used in our local community. (How close is your closest farming field? Mine is about a half-mile away.)
5. Florida's homegrown products are a treasure trove of new flavors. In the past year, I've tried some of the best milk, wine, juice, honey, seafood and tomatoes that I've ever had — all produced within or near Central Florida. Over the next year, I look forward to trying even more goodies.
I look forward to sharing my observations and reporting with you over the next year. Please feel free to contact me at vcaceres email@example.com with your story ideas.