Browse the menu at Mar Vista restaurant and you'll see a commitment to sustainability and that some of the ingredients and sides come from a place called Gamble Creek Farms.
Those farm fresh ingredients served in many dishes at restaurants in the Chiles Hospitality group, like Mar Vista, are sourced from this 26-acre farm in Parrish with a focus on sustainable practices.
The Chiles Hospitality group includes Beach House in Bradenton Beach, Sandbar in Anna Maria, Mar Vista in Longboat Key and Anna Maria Bake House, along with the farm.
Currently, the farm fulfills a couple orders a week for the Chiles Hospitality restaurants. But when the season picks up, that load will increase, said General Manager Will Manson.
From the greenhouse to the fields, you can find yourself the makings of a good salad. Kale, Swiss chard and romaine are just some of the crops grown there. There’s also broccoli, pumpkins and edible flowers.
The farm was an orange grove for about 40 years and then became a source for sustainable community agriculture. Then, in 2013, Chiles Hospitality began leasing the farm to bring fresh produce to the associated restaurants. In 2021, the hospitality group bought the farm.
Gamble Creek Farms has earned organic certifications from organizations like the Florida Organic Growers, USDA Organic, Quality Certification Services and U.S. Green Building Council.
Under Farm Manager Zack Rasmussen, the farm implements practices that he's proud to share while walking among the crops.
Rasmussen has been working on the farm for almost five seasons now, but he has been affiliated with Chiles Hospitality for much longer. He worked at the restaurants before helping to ramp up the compost program and other sustainability projects.
He also took on the challenge of helping the Chiles Hospitality restaurants grow their own herbs before becoming the farm manager.
“It just made sense,” Rasmussen said when talking about his progression to managing the farm.
And he said it with a smile — one that showed his enthusiasm to talk about Gamble Creek Farms and how the sustainable practices are a part of a bigger cycle.
Cultivate, consume and compost
What makes Gamble Creek Farms different from large-scale commercial agriculture?
For starters, Gamble Creek doesn't use pesticides or herbicides.
To ward off bugs, one creative method Rasmussen has adopted is alternating the crops in a row. So, in a single row there may be three or four different crops of different colors. It creates a sort of checkerboard look.
The differentiation in color and crop type tricks insects, he said. From his anecdotes, it seems to be working.
As for weeds, Rasmussen embraces them.
“Weeds are the indicators of everything,” Rasmussen said. “The weed wouldn’t come up if it didn’t have everything it needed. The weed is going to live its life and supply all the nutrients the soil needs for that space and time.”
Keeping soil covered, with weeds or crops, is a core principle of regenerative agriculture, another practice that Gamble Creek Farms strives for.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on maintaining soil health by implementing various strategies, like keeping the soil covered. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, about 33% of the soil in the world is degraded, some of which is caused by industrial agriculture practices.
Maximizing crop diversity is a core principle in regenerative agriculture, which can be seen in Rasmussen’s checkerboard crop rows, and the way he describes the farm’s crop rotations.
After harvest and delivery, the restaurants' chefs get creative with the produce, like a pumpkin soup made from a gourd variety called Seminole pumpkins.
After the ingredients are included in restaurant dishes, the restaurants in the hospitality group collect the biowaste in a compost bin.
Even shells from oysters and clams are kept. If the shells aren’t used in the farm, Ed Chiles, owner of the hospitality group, will give them to oyster restoration projects.
Back on the farm, adjacent to one of the fields are piles of compost material. The restaurants' compost is mixed with soil and left in piles that need to be turned periodically in a system that lasts for a few months before the now nutrient-rich soil is used for their crops.
Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.