Sharing the harvest
Fields to Forks program puts fresh, healthy food on community dining tables
Healthy and tasty food, the best holiday gift of all, can be found in Palm Bay, where on Thursdays and Fridays, plus Saturdays in the fall, the bounty of the land is ready for pickup at Florida Fields to Forks, Brevard’s outstanding example of the CSA — Community Supported Agriculture — principle in action.
“We’re probably the largest CSA in the state of Florida,” said commuter farmer Brock Hall, who each morning departs his Satellite Beach home to work the 20-acre farm he and his mother, Jan Pence, developed into a CSA in 2011. “Our goal was to get extremely healthy produce into the local community,” he said.
Jan has since stepped back, leaving Farmer Brock to run the place, a gargantuan task considering the garden and the stock animals, not to mention the collection of resident critters such as sibling goats, Lolly and Pop, and Magnum P.I.G., an imposing once-feral hog that, despite an impressive set of tusks, is a pussycat of a fellow.
As the name implies, the program exists because the community supports it. The farm runs on the concept of membership. A lifetime membership of $35 enables a family to access the veggies, meats and products offered throughout the year.
Hall takes pride in his farm’s beyond organic approach and considers it part of his mission in life to raise awareness of what the term really means, because sometimes, organic isn’t really that organic.
“The USDA’s National Organic Standards provides an exemption for farmers who want to finish off, and fatten, their cattle on grain,” Hall explained. “This deceptive and USDA-approved practice, leads unknowing consumers to pay more for what they believe is organic grass-fed beef when actually they are not.”
While some meats may be labeled antibiotic and hormone-free, the labeling does not include a classification of drugs such as paylean, commonly used to fatten pigs.
Hall also notes that an amendment to the USDA’s National Organic Standards allows egg producers to label eggs free-range even though the chicken never left its cage. The amendment allows egg producers the right to claim free-range status by just providing a small concrete porch to the inhumane cages where factory-farmed birds live out their short lives.
“This again is very deceptive to the unknowing public,” Hall said.
Hall walks the walk when it comes to organic. The farm offers local grass-fed and grass-finished Angus meats and Berkshire pork, forage-fed Katahdin lamb, true pasture-raised chickens, and during the holidays, pasture-raised turkeys that are extremely popular.
“We’re taking reservations for the turkeys now and once they are gone, they are gone,” he said.
Hall raises five to seven head of cattle annually at the farm. The rest come from Florida ranches such as 4 Arrows Ranch in Citra.
All the animals are raised as Hall puts it, “the way God intended” and never fed growth agents, antibiotics or chemicals. A USDA and Animal Welfare-approved processor harvests them humanely.
The resulting product differs significantly from the grocery store counterparts, both in taste and nutritional value.
Grass-fed beef is quite lean and cooks quicker than fattier meats. It is rich in high levels of highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, critical in fighting chronic disease. According to a study by the USDA Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program, eggs from pasture-raised chickens carry 10% less fat and 40% more vitamin A, 34% less cholesterol and 400% more omega-3 fatty acids.
“That makes our eggs amazingly healthy,” Hall said.
Many of the farm’s eggs come courtesy of the 50 American Brahma chickens, super-cute and hard-working egg-making balls of feathers that produce eggs spanning the rainbow from blue and green to teal and light brown.
LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE
In addition to the meats, the farm also sells seasonal veggies and fruits, many from the farm, including super-delicious ladyfinger bananas. The rest is grown by local producers such as R&B Organics in Merritt Island.
Artisan-prepared foods, local honey, grass-fed cow’s milk, locally caught fish, organic juices and even handmade dog treats round out the healthy shopping experience.
The list of farm partners is a who’s who in local organic food producers, from Crazy Hart Ranch — where meat chickens and heritage turkeys peck happily at the grass of Fellsmere — to Melbourne’s Organic Rising Bakery, creators of artisan breads, pastries and cookies.
Regulars will tell you shopping at Florida Fields to Forks is addictive.
“Fields to Forks has been a big part of our family’s dinner table for over six years,” Abby Riba from Viera said. “They aren’t a business that only cares about doing the minimum to get the organic label, but focus on producing product that is as nutritionally dense as each vegetable, fruit and meat should be. As long as we live here in Brevard, we will be customers.”
Indialantic resident Mary Woodruff began ordering from the farm when her family moved here four years ago.
“The quality and variety of food they offer is exactly what we were looking for,” she said.
“The veggie share is our favorite. It is always overflowing with fresh products. We also order grass-fed meat and fresh eggs, which are exceptional.”
MIX AND MATCH
The share Woodruff refers to offers customers the option to purchase produce and meats in larger quantities. The Angus beef share, for example, provides 10 pounds of a mixed variety of cuts such as steaks, roasts, London broil and short ribs. Shares are available for all the meats, as well as for milk and cheeses. Vegetable and fruit shares offer a tasty, nutrition-overflowing cornucopia that includes pretty much everything.
Members place orders online before 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday for pickup or delivery later that week. Some customers prefer visiting the farm on pickup days to select their purchases. Home delivery, available from Sebastian to Merritt Island, costs $8 per order.
Although Hall is happy to deliver the goods, he encourages members to visit the farm and take in the ambiance during the pickup hours of 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays.
“They can enjoy a picnic by the lake and hang out with the animals,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in keeping the place in tip top shape.”
During the holidays, the photo ops abound with the pumpkins, plus the resident farm equipment, and, of course, the animals.
“Some families just like to come in for photos,” said Hall.
BUSINESS IS GROWING
While the pandemic was disastrous for many businesses, it served as a huge boon to Florida Fields to Forks as folks searched for better options to eat their way through the COVID-19 crisis.
“We had 300 percent more orders overnight,” said Hall, who admits that keeping up with the mountain of orders, in addition to running the farm, made for some extremely busy months.
The farm-to-table movement, long popular in western states and in the Northeast, has finally gained a foothold in Florida, which just a few years ago ranked 41 out of 50 states in the Locavore index. The Sunshine State is now in the 31st spot, attesting to increased awareness of the importance of eating local for the benefit of the individual, the local economy and, ultimately, the planet.
For most of us, having a farm is impossible, but with Florida Fields to Forks and its partner farmers, we can enjoy Mother Earth’s many gifts.
“Everyone should have a farm,” said Hall.
With Florida Fields to Forks, they can.
FLORIDA FIELDS TO FORKS
Address: 1200 Corey Road, Malabar.
Tours: Groups are invited to register for a farm tour.
Newsletter: Sign up for the farm’s free newsletter to keep abreast of availabilities and upcoming events. Membership is not required to be on the newsletter mailing list.
For more information: Visit floridafieldstoforks.com or call 321.229.5288.