Heading down Corrine in the past couple weeks, you’ve already seen what the new East End Market has done to appreciate the value of our community. However it might come as a surprise, that within its four walls lies the capacity to double the demand for locally grown, locally sold produce. Emerging from a landscape that continues to award subsidies to the most large scale agricultural practices, a nascent network finally promises to provide an alternative to mass-produced, homogenized and genetically-modified crops. With the help of slow food activists across the state, consumers are finding options that in past decades rarely existed.
Emily Rankin is as locally grown as they come. Raised in the neighborhood that – through her efforts – would become known as the Audubon Park Garden District, she remembers a time when the intersection of Corrine Drive and Winter Park Road was a local food destination. “My Mom would send me on my bike to pick up onions for The Grocery Store,” she recalls.
Since then she’s traded her bicycle for a farm truck and now stands on the other side of the counter.
Emily’s shop Local Roots was by no means an afterthought following the inception of East End. It is the result of years of hard, steady work. She founded the Audubon Park Community Market in March of 2008 after many months of campaigning on behalf of Ourlando, the local alliance she also helped to create. All of this was done, says Ms. Rankin, in hopes that Audubon Park would “serve as inspiration, a working model to give other communities the tools to create the world we want to live in.”
In the past five years, she has worked with people throughout central Florida to build this model along with the slow food movement – a project that has required more than just a green thumb. Linking a sustainable supply chain has been half the battle. Encouraged by Julie Norris, co-owner of Dandelion Communitea cafe, Emily sought to bridge the agricultural gap between the east and west coasts of Florida. That’s when she met up with Ryan Iacovacci, who now does truck driving and sales for Local Roots.
“I started working with him because he needed product for delivery. He was helping me, in turn, grow my customer base in Tampa.”
Since then she has involved herself in an effort to “bring the circle in.” Delivering to the Space Coast, Orlando, Tampa and St. Pete, Local Roots distribution sources products across the state from tomatoes in Ruskin, to Grits in Tallahassee, to mangoes and avocados from Merritt Island to the east and Homestead down south. Rather than hustling across the peninsula and sleeping overnight at different farms – as Ms. Rankin had become accustomed to in years past – her business has evolved into a more coordinated operation, working with fewer, yet larger farms in order to source the mix of products that will best suit the market’s demands.
“My job has been to diversify the farms. We can’t be competitive in commodity, so we have to do something different,” Ms. Rankin explains.
This has required a more collaborative relationship with farmers like Paul Tomazin, a fourth generation farmer in Samsula. In some ways, Mr. Tomazin is a rare breed, cultivating lands that could just as easily be converted into real estate. Rather than solely dedicating his relatively small 50 acres to commodity crops like corn, cabbage and tomatoes, he is working with Ms. Rankin to grow unique yet profitable produce.
“I’ve literally picked out most of the seeds I want him growing,” notes Rankin. “I’ve told him what size I want them to be and we both decide on the price point.”
This open dialogue has transformed a system formerly attractive only to chefs in search of a modestly-priced baby carrot to one offering a good local option to a general public with a new hunger for nutritional home-cooked meals.
What you can find at Local Roots: currently fall produce is abound with items such as Swiss chard, broccoli raab, toscano kale, beets, and turnips. Additionally, there are local meats like lamb, pork, beef and chicken sourced from Ocoee farm, Lake Meadow Naturals, where no hormones or antibiotics are used. Eggs from cage-free chickens and ducks. “I’m actually jealous of our chickens’ lives,” Ms. Rankin quips.
In the future they plan to offer sausages prepared by The Smiling Bison, the local-oriented, American-fare restaurant located on Bennett Road.
The Barefoot Farmer, Local Roots’ go to brand sourced from Tomazin farms also happens to be transitional in that it is amidst the process of becoming organic. This can be extremely tough in Florida; though the climate is temperate, bugs detrimental to natural crop growth need to be repelled by chemical assistance where sustained freezing temperatures are few and far between.
Streamlining a fledgling lattice of newer, but smaller farmers will prove to be another hurdle for the organic supply chain. However, an efficient system without an end market to supply, contends Rankin, turns out to be little more than the best-laid plans of mice and men.
“The only person who can change this is the consumer saying, “I understand that this is the cost of good, local, healthy food and I am willing to pay that.’ ”
In the face of this challenge, the young entrepreneur remains optimistic, witnessing the level of demand fomenting within the community.
“We have a place that people can go every single day. People can now integrate it into their life and make it real.” explains Rankin. “John (Rife) and Gabby (Othon Lothrop) making this happen has really taken this to the next level.”
Not only has Orlando shown a desire to consume local, but to be producers as well. In response to this trend, East End Market will offer classes in the future, primarily conducted by market founder John Rife along with his urban farm staff of Winter Park.
“That’s most exciting thing for me. Seeing people in their early 20’s wanting to be farmers,” says Rankin.
In an effort to foster this enthusiasm, for three days next April there will be a statewide farming conference held at East End Market.
“It’s going to be real exciting to see two hundred people learning together about farming, understanding how to bring [their produce] to market,” says Rankin.
They are, after all, beginning to tread the same soil Rankin and company have been sowing for several years now. All that remains to be seen now is a consistent community willing to reap the benefits of these new food pioneers’ efforts. Judging from recent street views of East End, Audubon Park should expect to see reflections of itself across the city, and perhaps the country, in the very near future.