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Thursday, September 1, 2016

UF/IFAS Chef and Producer Meet and Greet at Shangri-La Springs

The  University of Florida Institute for Agricultural Studies (UF/IFAS) is a Land Grant college with branches in every Florida county. What is this you may ask? In the mid 19th century, states were apportioned land by the federal government. The proceeds of the sales of these lands were used to maintain an endowment that would support colleges teaching agriculture and the mechanical arts.

What is the mission of UF/IFAS? I cannot say this any better, and here is a quote from the UF/IFAS website. "The Mission of UF/IFAS is to develop knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge accessible to sustain and enhance the quality of human life."

Recently the UF/IFAS Collier and Lee extensions sponsored a Chef/Producer meet and greet at Shangri-La Springs, in Bonita Springs, FL.

I recently published a Blog Post on Shangri-La Springs after eating lunch there.

The meeting was in a building off the courtyard here.

After registering,

we went around the room introducing ourselves.

The group included chefs, growers, merchants, a master gardener and a food blogger, among others.

We were then treated to a tour of Shangri-La's agricultural space by Millisa Bell. Millisa works the garden here full time and is also known by the moniker, The Unruly Gardener.

The whole property is Certified Organic, and they grow a wide variety of produce.

Okra, black eyed peas, egg plant, tropical spinach, peppers, passion fruit, herbs, Seminole Pumpkin and many other Cover and edible crops were growing here.

There is also a fruit orchard that was recently planted.

Lychees, Loquat, black and white Sapote, figs, mango, mulberry, Persimmon and pomegranate in addition to other fruits can be found in the orchard.

There are also multiple bee colonies on property facilitating the pollination of their crops.

They harvest twice a week here and the menu at Shangri-La Springs reflects the seasonality of their garden's offerings.

After the tour, there was a round table exchange with Shangri-La Springs Executive Chef, Pyro Rodriguez, and representatives of the Collier and Lee County UF/IFAS.

Topics of discussion were how to educate the public that quality ingredients cost more money which reflects in higher menu prices but provide for a superior nutritional and culinary experience.

It was interesting talking about the benefits of buying from a local grower rather than a large food conglomerate. As an example, a corporate food purveyor may charge $1.00 for a product, but that product may be 7-10 days old. A local grower may charge $2.00 for the same thing but is in all likelihood a much fresher product. This gives the end user much more flexibility in when to use this item and results in much less product waste. 

They also discussed market management considerations in farmer's markets. In addition, ideas were put forward for better ways to connect chefs with producers in terms of the product needs of chefs and producer product availability.

We were then treated to a few tastes of Shangri-La Springs such as lentil salad, eggplant Caponata 

and Malabar Spinach spring rolls.

The rolls were good, and were made from blanched Malabar Spinach, yard long beans, peppers and a sweet and sour sauce.

This was a really good meeting. Not only did we get a nice tour of one of the engines driving the culinary arts at Shangri-La Springs but this was also a great opportunity for chefs and producers to interact with each other. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the dynamics of food and food production.

Shangri-La Springs
27750 Old 41 Rd.
Bonita Springs, FL 34135

UF/IFAS Collier County Extension
14700 Immokalee Rd.
Naples, FL 34120

UF/IFAS Lee County Extension
3410 Palm Beach Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33916
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