Archive for January, 2010

Uncle Matt’s in the Orlando Sentinel

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

A bounty of local food choices

We are almost half way through the Orlando Slow Food chapter’s first Restaurant Week. Through Sunday, top restaurants are showcasing menu specials that highlight the locally grown and produced foods. We can continue this green momentum but adding local ingredients to our home kitchens as well. Here’s how to get started:

1. Start small. Try a single dinner or one week of eating foods grown within a 100-mile range of where you live.

2. Do not set rigid rules. Be strict for the first week. Then, after you have met that goal, develop escape clauses for your lifestyle, such as eating out or having dinner in the homes of friends. Travel can open options too. If you can’t live without something, don’t. Grumpy, food-deprived activists are no fun.

3. Surf the Internet. At Localharvest.org find information on local markets, farms and local-food-friendly eateries. Also, fl-ag.com, the Web site of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has details on you-pick farms, markets and organic resources. Pickyourown.org keeps up with you-pick operations. Visitors can search the site by regions within Florida.

4. Start a garden. Self-sufficiency greens up cities, communities and towns. Start small with a few pots of herbs and tomatoes. As your green thumb develops, graduate to small plots in your yard or look into edible landscaping. Need help? Check out myyardfarm.com or full-service nurseries.

5. Get to know farmers’ markets and farmers. Join a Community Supported Agriculture farm, such as Merry Heart Farm in Astatula in Lake County. In these programs, you support a farm by paying a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season and then share in that farm’s harvest. Locate local farms through the Community Supported Agriculture link at localharvest.org. At farmers’ markets, talk to purveyors about what they are bringing the next week. Building relationships is key to maintaining the commitment.

Here is a sampling of local purveyors you will find at weekly farmers’ markets, localharvest.org and some mainstream supermarkets:

•Dansk Farms of Florida and Winter Park Honey both produce local honey.

•Waterkist Farm is a family owned and operated farm that uses hydroponic growing methods. Produce includes heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes, lettuces, micorgreens, peppers, Mediterranean cucumbers and herbs.

•Heart of Christmas Farms is a small hydroponic farm producing strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, peppers (bell, banana, hot) lettuces and other greens, and other select vegetables and fruits, many of which are heirloom varieties.

•Sanford Cochins is a small family farm located on Lake Jesup in Sanford. They offer table eggs from various breeds of hens which lay light brown, dark brown, blue, green, teal, and an occasional pink egg.

•Deep Creek Ranch in DeLeon Springs sells beef, lamb and mutton.

•Winter Park Dairy is the first dairy in Florida licensed to produce raw cow’s milk artisan cheese. Bleu Sunshine brand bleu cheese has a mild flavor, natural rind and full-balanced richness.

•Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee is home to a variety of cage-free heritage breeds of chickens.

•Island Grove sauces, dressings and drink mixes in DeLand (IslandGrove.com) works with an extension program at Florida A&M University to provide pepper seeds for farmers and buys back the produce to make dressings and sauces.

•Makoto dressings and sauces grew out of the Makoto Japanese Steakhouses that have been in Melbourne and Palm Bay since 1985 (MakotoGingerDressing.com). The product line includes six flavors spun from restaurant customer favorites. Look for Makoto bottles in the cold case in the produce departments of major supermarkets.

•Old Hearth Bread Co. in Seminole County supplies breads to local restaurants and sells to the public at the bakery (207 Reece Way No. 1625, Casselberry; 407-834-8881; oldehearthbakery.com).

•Uncle Matt’s Organic juice and produce is from a Clermont grove, with roots in the citrus industry six generations deep (UncleMatts.com).

This is truly just a sampling. By reading labels, you will discover a world of edibles that have homemade or home-grown appeal.

Food editor Heather McPherson can be reached at 407-420-5498, hmcpherson@orlandosentinel.com, her blog OrlandoSentinel.com/thedish and you can follow her Twitter.com @OS_thedish.

Check out the WOMX Mix 105.1 Morning Show recipe of the week: Honey-Spiced Chicken with Mango at Mix1051.com and OrlandoSentinel.com/thedish.

Uncle Matt’s in the Wall Street Journal

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Florida Freeze Cuts Produce Supply, Sends Prices Higher

By Tom Sellen and Holly Henschen
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

Every winter, Matt McLean, a fourth-generation citrus grower near Orlando, is reminded that Florida farming is just legalized gambling. Livelihoods are made and lost based on the whims of Mother Nature, his father tells him.

The risky nature of farming in the Sunshine State, which is periodically battered by hurricanes and crop diseases, was brought into sharp relief in recent weeks as freezing temperatures caused catastrophic losses for some crops. The implications of the bet gone wrong are wide-reaching.

The latest cold snap has not only stung farmers but will take a big economic toll on a state that has suffered more than most from the housing market downturn and relies heavily on agriculture. For consumers, particularly on the East Coast, some products will be in short supply and prices will be higher, as crops such as citrus, tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, snap beans, strawberries and squash were hurt. Businesses that rely on Florida produce may have to scramble to get their products elsewhere.

“We had a lot of damage; we just got devastated,” said Paul Allen, co-owner of R.C. Hatton Farms near Pahokee, Fla., who grows green beans and sweet corn on 6,000 acres.

Preliminary data from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services suggest Florida agriculture – including everything from fruits and vegetables to nursery plants and shrubs to tropical fish – will sustain at least 30% loss due to the freeze. Tomatoes were particularly hard hit, with about 70% of the crop in Southwest Florida, a main growing region, likely wiped out, according to Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

Growers continue to survey their fields and the full extent of the damage won’t be known for days or weeks. But the damage -the worst cold weather-related event the state has faced in at least two decades – has already started pushing prices higher.

Wholesale prices for tomatoes, orange juice and lettuce have climbed nearly 40% on the East Coast, said Nelson Eusebio, executive director of the National Supermarket Association. The group represents 400 independent supermarket owners in the New York metropolitan area.

For example, a 25-pound box of South Florida “mature green” tomatoes, or “slicers,” as they are known in the industry, on Jan. 4 ranged from $15.95 to $17.95. On Jan. 12, that same box shot up to $23.95, data from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service showed.

Eusebio said the higher prices at supermarkets could last for three or four weeks.

Consumers in the eastern U.S. and eastern Canada will feel the effects more than consumers in the western U.S., but there will be ripples across the country as growers in California and Mexico step up to fill the gap.

“The name of the game in the produce business these days is year-round supply. That has helped provide some diversity in how many suppliers (that retailers) have,” said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications at the United Fresh Produce Association, which represents U.S. growers, processors and retailers.

McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), for instance, sources tomatoes from Florida during certain times of the year, but the company’s restaurants won’t suffer a supply shortage owing to the Florida damage, spokeswoman Danya Proud said.

“We count on our suppliers to have contingencies in place. Where there might be a lack of supply, our suppliers have alternative sourcing,” Proud said.

While imported tomatoes will undoubtedly fill some of the void for some buyers, imports can be difficult to obtain at the last minute as much food is grown under contract to buyers.

Grocers might try to point consumers to other options if supplies of their favorite fresh items aren’t available. Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFMI), said stores are recommending frozen berries or produce that is in season in the regions. They are expecting strawberries and tomatoes will be in short supply for the next six weeks.

Fruit and vegetable processors and marketers are trying to stay nimble. Marty Ordman, spokesman for Dole Food Co. (DOLE), the world’s largest marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, doesn’t anticipate any problems because of the freeze. Dole, based in Westlake Village, Calif., buys some strawberries and romaine lettuce from Florida, but any shortfalls can be made up from product out of California, Mexico or Yuma, Ariz., where much of the winter lettuce is grown.

Spokespersons from HJ Heinz Co. (HNZ) and Campbell Soup Co. (CPB), big users of tomatoes, said they wouldn’t be affected by the Florida freeze since they get their tomatoes from California.

Coca-Cola Co. (KO), which makes Minute Maid drinks, is “watching the situation,” said spokesman Ray Crockett. The firm gets most of its orange juice from Florida oranges but declined to comment on specific financial or other fallouts to the company from the Florida freeze.

Orange juice prices at the supermarket have held relatively steady even as some industry participants estimate that freeze damage could reduce this year’s Florida orange crop by 5% or more. Frozen concentrated orange juice futures soared last week, but moderated this week as initial damage reports weren’t as bad as many feared. Also, orange juice  nventories are high by historical standards.

McLean, the Florida orange grower, said that crop losses for the 1,000-acre operation at Clermont-based Uncle Matt’s Organic, the oldest organic citrus company in the U.S. and biggest in Florida, were likely about 5% to 10%. At least one farmer nearby lost about 30%, said McLean, founder and chief executive of Uncle Matt’s.

“God smiled on us,” he said.

(Debbie Carlson, Paul Ziobro and Anjali Cordeiro contributed to this article)

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Cold Sours Prospects For Citrus Crop

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Reported by Dave D’Marko and Heather Sorentrue

CLERMONT – Citrus growers across Central Florida are facing huge financial losses after another night of freezing temperatures, and that could greatly affect the price you pay at the supermarket.

At the Showcase of Citrus in southern Lake County, there are 350 acres of citrus groves, with about 50 different types of citrus.

On Sunday, John Arnold told News 13 that it looks like he may have lost at least 30 percent of his crop.

Arnold said after Sunday’s inspection he found a lot of ice in each variety of fruit, varying from about 5 percent penetration, which makes the fruit sweeter; to 30 percent, which makes it unmarketable.

The ice on the citrus trees was put there by design as they continue to run the irrigation system, hoping to give the fruit an insulating layer of ice to protect it from the cold air.

Arnold said the biggest factor that contributes to fruit survival is how long the temperature drops below freezing, and how sweet the fruit is. Fruits like tangerines are suffering the most damage, and dying trees will lead to losses for years to come.

Meanwhile, Benny McLean’s family has four generations of citrus farmers and said the cold snap has been extremely unusual.

“I have never seen it go,” McLean said. “This is like the seventh day now that we have been on the edge of really having to run the irrigation, trying to decide what’s the critical temperature. Normally it’s a three-day freeze. That’s normally what you get in Central Florida.”

Benny’s son Matt launched Uncle Matt’s Organic in Clermont 10 years ago.

“Extremely stressful,” Matt McLean said. “Probably the most stressful time we have as a company.”

Matt McLean said this is the longest period his company has had to deal with such extreme cold weather.

Although his family was once wiped out by the freezes that hit Lake County back in the 1980′s, the family is taking this latest blow by Mother Nature in stride.

“We’re still assessing the damage,” Matt McLean said. “I say 5 to 10 percent today and some blocks where it got a little colder for longer, we’ll probably experience total crop failure and some issues where we had real low temperatures in the 20. But again those are smaller blocks. There are a couple little fresh fruit places that we have.”

Estimates said this could be one of the smallest citrus crops that growers in the Sunshine State produce in the last decade.

Damage varies so much from grove to grove that it could take several more weeks for the industry to examine just how much damage they have seen from this cold snap.

Growers said for fruit damage to set in, temperatures must reach below 28 degrees for four hours or more.

Colder temperatures for longer periods of time can cause tree damage, which is a major concern because it can impact the citrus crop for years to come.