Eat local. That's the best advice for eating healthier. What's better than food that's freshly picked and packed with nutrients? Why, eating it right on the farm, of course! That's what I did Wednesday night at the King Family Farm with my friend, local photographer Michelle Donner.
We wanted to see what all the talk was about, so we joined Shelby King at her Bradenton farm where she has teamed up with chef Antonia "AJ" Latteri of The Loft on Anna Maria Island to bring farm-fresh food to the table.
Our evening started with a cordial greeting from our server, who invited us to try a sun-ripened peach and rum punch. We had the chance to chat with fellow diners while waiting for others to arrive. A few minutes later a warm, oven-baked flatbread appetizer was served.
Shelby welcomed everyone formally and gave us a brief history of the farm, which has been in the King family since 1963. The family has 104 acres on the Braden River at the Caruso Road location in East Bradenton, near Lakewood Ranch, and an additional 253 acres in Myakka where they farm blueberries.
Shelby then took our group on an educational walking tour of the farm where we were able to see the crops and groves flourishing. We were surprised to find many of the trees growing in this area.
We were able to pick ripe plums and peaches ...
... and even pet a lamb that Shelby held for us.
The King Farm is home to peach, pomelo, citrus, plum and avocado trees. They currently farm small crops of fennel, kale, carrots, greens and even some pineapple plants that are used in their dinners, as well as their own honey, blueberries and onions, which you can find for sale at their weekend market on Saturdays through the end of the spring season.
When we returned from our farm tour, the long dining table was set under the Spanish moss hanging off the old oak branches.
Songwriter and musician Trevor Bystrum of Anna Maria Island was seated playing guitar and singing. His soothing vocals and Jack Johnson-esque style set the perfect tone for dinner.
Even the delicate flower arrangements were selected from King Farm to dress the tables. What makes AJ's tables so appealing is her gifted eye for beauty. From the décor to each course of the meal throughout, she takes great care that everything is as wonderful as it looks.
Each course was served with a fresh set of eclectic china to complete the ambiance of a rustic, yet elegant home-cooked meal.
There is something simply awesome about eating freshly picked food. You'll try things you've maybe never seen or tasted before, since eating local means eating whatever is in season and fresh at the time. Local food really does taste better. It undergoes little travel time so it still maintains its nutrients, and you're supporting your neighbors. It makes eating an adventure and an experience instead of a routine. Sustainable, slow food has become more popular in recent years. As a locavore, I was delighted to sit and enjoy the environment and take in all the new edibles.
We had purple and orange carrots, kohlrabi and chioggia beets (also called candy striped or bull's eye beets) ...
... lemongrass and roasted corn soup ...
... grilled onions over farm greens with a balsamic glaze ...
... and grilled salmon with Dakin Dairy Farms herb butter, wilted kale and couscous pearls.
AJ was kind enough to accommodate my plant-based diet as well, since I let her know in advance. Each week the menu changes with what food is closest to home and the freshest available. Locally-sourced beef and whitefish are normal fare. You can't expect the same meal twice, but you can bet that it will be worth the wait.
Another wonderful part of the meal was our dining company. Each person brought a different love of food and something new to teach us about their culinary hobbies, whether it was baking bread, growing vegetables or even brewing beer. There was a wide range of ages in the guests as well, which made for interesting conversation.
The farm was literally a breath of fresh air, with wildflowers in bloom and crops in the distance for a romantic reminder to slow down and enjoy the scenery. It felt like this is the way food is supposed to be eaten.
To find more information on the Table to Farm dinners, visit The Loft's blog. The dinners are every Wednesday beginning at 5:30 and last until about 8:30. King Family Farm is located at 4630 60th. St. E., Bradenton FL, 34203, north on Caruso Road from State Road 70 East. Call (941) 779-9801 to make your reservations. Dinners are $65 per person or $100 for two with tax and tip included. Reservations are required and will be held by credit card (MasterCard or Visa). Dinners take place rain or shine. You may bring your own beverages if you'd like something in addition to herb-infused water. There is a covered seating area if rain is in the forecast. You can also follow both Table to Farm dining and King Family Farm Market on Facebook.
King Family Farm is also available for private events, dinners and weddings.
All photographs courtesy of Michelle Donner Photography.