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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Sweet It Is At Walker Farms

Walker Farms

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is an apiary or a place where bee hives are kept. Bees are of the genus Apis which is where the word seems to come from.
Alan Walker (AW) was gracious enough to give me a private tour of his apiary, even though his wife was in the hospital having broken her back the week before. AW has been working with bees for over 50 years and has been running Walker Farms since 1970.

Walker Farms is quite the honey producer, making over 100,000 pounds of honey per year. I was told there was over 300 different kinds of honey produced in the U.S. depending on what types of plants there were in the region. Walker Farms produces 4 types of honey which are seasonal depending on the type of plant.

Orange blossom
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wild flower
saw palmetto
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and black mangrove.
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They also sell bricks of beeswax and beeswax candles which apparently burn cleaner than most other candles. The wax needs to be filtered because it contains pollen which will interfere with the candle wicks as they burn.

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The honey making business was very interesting. The colonies or hives are filled with frames, about 10/hive.

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The lattice that you see in the middle of the frame is made from beeswax. This supports the honeycomb
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As we approached the hives

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the largest stack of hives was estimated to contain 50-60,000 bees. Most bee colonies in North America have been africanized.  Through interbreeding with  africanized bees they are more aggressive than normal honey bees and harder to work with. If a beekeeper wants to start a non-africanized colony they would get their queen bee, the one that lays all the eggs from Hawaii. There are at present no africanized bees there due to the islands being very far out in the Pacific and strict regulations on any bee-related imports.

Bee populations have been markedly reduced, AW felt, by viruses and pesticides.

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AW brought his smoker and hive tool, two sine qua non of being a beekeeper. 

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No one really knows why, but the smoke tends to anesthetize the bees and make them easier to work with. The hive tool is used to pry and scrape the hives and frames. As he was prying open the hives
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he told me about this really cool natural wood preservation method using a mixture of beeswax and pine resin.
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You can see this on the edge of the wood. Wood treated in this fashion will last for over 30 years.

This particular frame was filled with honey and weighed about 10 pounds. Bees make honey by digesting the sugars in nectar from plants and concentrating it by fanning it with their wings.

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Once the combs are full of honey the bees cap them with beeswax. With 10 frames/hive and 10 pounds of honey a frame each cycle of a hive will produce 100 pounds of honey. Given multiple cycles and hives, well, you can do the math. It works out to be 3-400 pounds per hive/year.

When harvesting the honey 

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The frames are "uncapped" (beeswax taken off the honey comb) by the machine on the right. The honey is extracted from the "uncapped" combs through centrifugation by the machine on the left and pumped into holding tanks.
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Once it is ready to be bottled

it is strained through a cheesecloth-like filter to remove any particulate matter and bottled.

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Walker farms prices are quite reasonable which were called the "farm price".

I asked AW what the difference was between big agribusiness (AB) honey and his honey. He said that AB honey was pasteurized which totally changes it chemical composition and flavor. It also increased it's shelf live so it does not crystallize.

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It is also blended to have a consistent color, and corn syrup may even be added. Who would want that when they could have something so much better.

This was a very good tour, and very "sweet" of AW. I hope it has been as interesting and informative to you as it was for me.

Walker Farms
17131 Slater Rd.
North Fort Myers, FL 33917

Monday, October 21, 2013

FGCU Farmer's Market, Permaculture and Chef Brandon McGlamery

One of the events of Fort Myers Restaurant Week (Fort Myers Restaurant Week) was a farmer's market (FM) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). The number of participants at the FM was fairly small in all likelihood because of this being it's first year. Small is not a bad thing as there were some really interesting vendors there.
Sol Urban Farm (Sol Urban Farm) and The Unruly Gardner (The Unruly Gardner) had microgreens (Microgreens) and  various seeds, respectively.

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Pine Island Botanicals (Pine Island Botanicals) is a hydroponic growing operation on you guessed it, Pine Island.

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They use a different hydroponic (Hydroponics) growing system than Rabbit Run Farm (Rabbit Run Farm). They were sampling squash blossoms, and they were over the top.

Andy's Island Seafood (Andy's Island Seafood) had a seafood truck.

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Maverick Meats (Maverick Meats) is a meat processing facility in Lehigh Acres, FL. The owner was giving out samples of rib eye steak and bratwurst (Bratwurst)

and had a good selection of meats for sale.

I picked up some bratwurst and sweet Italian sausage. They were very good.

Rabbit Run Farm was a participant as well, but more on that later.

FGCU sponsored tours of their food forest (FGCU Food Forest). This organic farming operation was designed with the concept of permaculture (Permaculture) in mind. This is basically a food forest designed with natural components placed so that they complement each other. The main goal of this system is for it's growth and output to be greater than each individual component.

Solomon, who led the tour, was quite knowledgeable. He explained the the barrier of the forest was a living fence using plants that provided wind and bug protection. These grasses for example were very good bug repellants. Designs such as these eliminate the use of pesticides.

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The lattice of the fence was also used as a trellis to grow beans, gourds and grapes.

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We also got a tour of the inside.

Plants such as bananas provided shade and drainage. This created micro climates for other plants. Nitrogen fixing plants (Nitrogen Fixing Plants) were scattered throughout the inner forest to eliminate the use of fertilizers. I thought this whole arrangement was very interesting.

I cut the tour short as I wanted to talk with Chef Brandon McGlamery (Chef Brandon, CB). He was at the Rabbit Run Farm (Rabbit Run Farm) booth talking with attendees and providing tastings of some of his dishes.

For background for a moment, the James Beard Foundation (James Beard Foundation) is a member organization that provides information on foods, sponsors food-related events and recognition for it's members in the form of awards. These awards are determined through nominations and votes of it's membership.

Besides being featured chef for restaurant week, CB was a semi-finalist for Best Chef South 2013 (Best Chef South) from the James Beard Foundation. He was gracious enough to spend 20 minutes with me to prepare some samples of his creations and give me his thoughts on food, which were very interesting.
CB is quite the food stylist, and the tastes he put together would definitely pique most people's interest.
Cobia ceviche (Ceviche), jicama (Jicama), avacado, Thai basil, Serrano (Serrano Pepper) chili and lime,

Mote caviar (Mote Caviar) with creme fraiche (Creme Fraiche) egg salad

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Key West pink shrimp, artichoke aioli (Aioli) and pickled green tomatoes from Rabbit Run Farm

and to finish up a bit of pickled carrot.

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What was interesting were his thoughts on food. "Food is fun (I second that). I love cooking and working with farmers and getting fresh raw ingredients from them". 
Perhaps unwittingly, CB is giving the public a luxury good as Chanel or Hermes would. These retailers control every aspect of their product from the farms that cattle are raised on to the tanneries that produce the hides to the craftsman that craft their goods into a finished product. By developing relationships with local farmers/fisherman, etc. that can consistently provide high quality product he is in effect doing the same thing with what comes out of his kitchen. If what I tasted that day is well represented of what comes out of his kitchen I can only imagine.
CB is also coming out with a cookbook, 9 Courses. You can view a snippet of it here - 9 Courses

All and all an interesting day. Well that's that for another post on forks.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dinner with Artists at the von Liebig Art Center

The von Liebig Art Center is the educational and teaching facility of the Naples Art Association (Naples Art Association).

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They have started an interesting series of events named "A-Muse:Dinner with Artists" (AMDA).  These events pair an artist with a chef. This is part of a greater series called Art Connects (Art Connects) which connects the community with art in many ways other than visually.

The first event paired Chef Brian Gorman from the catering company Artichoke and Company (Artichoke and Company) with Leigh Herndon(Leigh Herndon Artist). Lee is a Rozome (Rozome Art) artist. This is a Japanese silk screening (Screen Printing) technique using waxes to get unusual colors and patterns. This is similar to batik (Batik) which has it's roots in Indonesia. To complement the art, the food was Asian-themed.

The gallery where AMDA took place was nicely appointed with submissions to the 6th Annual Show of Shows (6th Annual Show of Shows). This is made up of submissions from Naples Art Association members. I was more than happy to contribute a submission to this year's show.

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Various beverages were available to participants

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in addition to a good selection of nibbles prior to dinner. 

Seared sea scallops with an orange glaze,
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shrimp spring rolls wrapped in rice paper and served with a ginger aromatic sauce
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and steamed duck pot stickers with a Thai peanut dressing.
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I had a chance to talk to Chef Brian (CB) about his business and his thoughts on food. Artichoke and Company has been around since 1986 but CB has owned it since 1997. It used to be a retail operation but for the past few years has morphed into a catering business. CB is of the opinion, and I agree, that food is an art form. Design and color are important to CB when visualizing a dish just as a sculptor or painter would take this into consideration as well.

Leigh Herndon (LH) gave the participants a demonstration of her technique.
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Although not finished

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her design incorporated elements of the evening such as an artichoke, asparagus, shrimp, sushi and broccoli.

LH also had some of her wearable art in the other wing of the building.

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Dinner was served buffet style and was wonderful. Two assorted sushi boats,

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beef with broccoli with an Asian ginger dressing,
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grilled salmon topped with a julienne of vegetables with a soy ginger dressing
and grilled asparagus with lump crab meat and an Italian parsley dressing.

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 Dessert was banana and caramel chocolate wontons (Wonton)

and Japanese pancakes (Japanese Pancakes) topped with pineapple and cilantro.

The participants sat down to enjoy all of this lovely food and great conversation for the rest of the evening.

Another pleasant evening at the von Liebig Art Center. Would I attend another one of these artist/chef pairings? Without a second thought.

Well that's that. Another review on forks.

The von Liebig Art Center
585 Park St.
Naples, FL 34102