Florida Snapshot: Oyster Farm Feast
We fled south this winter. My partner, Riely, and I—longtime South Benders and local food lovers (our little household holds two member-ownerships in the Purple Porch Co-op)— landed in a wonderful, welcoming village called Apalachicola on Florida’s Forgotten Coast.
In January, we went to an Outstanding in the Field (OITF) local food feast at 13 Mile Seafood, an oyster farm. OITF, the brainchild of artist Jim Denevan, is “a roving culinary adventure” whose mission is “to connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.”
Good farmland is scarce on the Florida Panhandle because the water table is too high. Local food there is more about seafood, so the traditional OITF row of tables was not set in a farm field—instead, it curved along a small mountain of oyster shells and looked out on the calm waters of Apalachicola Bay, where most of Florida’s oysters come from.
All afternoon and into the evening we feasted with 158 friendly strangers. The oysters, fresh from the bay, were harvested by Tommy Ward and his family, three generations of oysterers: “It’s more than just a business—it’s a way of life,” his son T.J. told us. We ate “nude” raw oysters, chargrilled oysters, pit-roasted oysters with garlic butter, and oysters baked over heirloom collard greens topped with corn bread and Andouille sausage.
The collards we ate were grown by Cat McCreery, of Liberty Gardens in Perdido, Florida. A “passionate heirloom preservation grower,” she raises heirloom varieties mostly for seed and sends most of what she raises to SeedSavers.org. Good food is a way of life for her, too: “In my family, when you got married, you got seeds,” she says.
OITF regularly hosts culinary dinners in the Michiana area at Klug’s Orchard in Berrien County and Seedling Farms in South Haven, Michigan.