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Feb 19, 2008 06:20 AM

Does FLA export its best stuff?

After endless attempts at finding local, Florida grown or sourced produce and seafood I've almost had it.

Was in NYC this weekend and dropped into Dean and Deluca. While looking through the produce I saw picture perfect meyer lemons and some not so good looking fava beans. Where were both of them from? Yep, Florida grown baby. At the fish counter what did I see? Whole pompano and skate wing. Guess from where?

I'm so sick and tired of our best local product being shipped out and almost impossible to find locally. When was the last time Publix had pompano? But I'm sure every Publix will have farm raised Chilean salmon at $5.99 a pound. And meyer lemons? Last time I saw them at a local market specializing in produce (Norman Brothers) they were imported from California. And fava beans are non-existant until spring when we get them in from the West Coast?

I've got plenty of theories, all of which tick me off. One is that growers and fisherman get more for their product if they export it out of state. To me this doesn't hold water because the lemons and beans were going for the same price as the specimens we get from California. Is it that Floridians don't care about what's growing in their own backyard and farmers don't have a choice but to export their product? Possibly. Ask your friends if they know (a) what a meyer lemon is and (b) that they're grown in Florida.

Is it because growers don't know that there's demand here for their product? The other day I was at a nursery in S. Miami and asked if they had meyer lemon trees. One of the owners said "I don't know why these things are so popular. We can't keep them in stock". This woman didn't even know why her customers wanted what they wanted. When I asked if she was getting more trees she said no, but she'd be getting tangerines, etc. (the typical citrus trees you think of).

Regardless of the reason it irks the heck outta me that we're exporting our best stuff (just like, thanks to Anthony Bourdain's economics and marketing lesson last night, Jamaica and its Blue Mountain Coffee). Don't know if anyone feels the same way. Any comments or theories?

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  1. The most interesting thing about your post is your point of reference. NYC is somewhere that I hate and love to go to. The quality of food I have every time I go to New York is so phenomenal, and so often I find myself eating there for as good or lower prices than I've paid in Miami for inferior meals. I'm not talking about low key places, I'm even talking about big guns like Mario Batali's Otto, for example. Good food, wine, drinks and reasonably priced. . .in NEW YORK. The differences in the food so often is the quality of ingredients, and it makes no sense considering our lush tropical landscape where we have to challenge most foods not to grow here.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Icantread

      Really, Florida grows a lot of food in the state, but a lot of it doesn't go to local markets unless if it's small and independent markets that goes "gourmet" and does a better job offering local and organic produce.

      Norman's does a better job comparing with other markets - you can find rare fruits like eggfruits. But then if you go down to the farming areas of the Redland, you can find a lot of fruits you've probably never heard of at Fruit & Spice Park - and they're all locally grown.

      And then for the vegetables, Robert Is Here fruit stand and Glaser Farms also showcase locally grown cabbage, lettuce, and other greens, tomatoes, radishes, onions, and tons of other vegetable varieties. And at Glaser Farm, they even grow sapodilla, something you won't find in any other part of the country.

      The question is when will these local fruits and vegetables go mainstream, locally or regionally. Back to eggfruit, it would be cool to see eggfruit pie, custard, or something of the sort, taking advantage of what our tropical climes is able to offer in terms of exotic fruits and winter produce.

      But for the meanwhile, it seems like the only way to get these local produce is by going to specific farmer's markets that has these produce (Coconut Grove Farmer's Market), few specific stores (Robert Is Here, Norman's), and even more so, to stick around the Redland or any other farming community and get it directly from them.

    2. I've been in Florida almost 3 years, and nearly every mango I have bought here was from Central or South America. I learned on Chowhound, to my surprise and to the enlightenment of my ignorance, that Florida is 1 or 2 in mango production in the US. I'm not certain that I have yet eaten a Florida mango. Even from Publix.
      Next topic: my favorite Florida delicacy to which I am hopelessly addicted, stone crabs. I mingle with the guys on the docks and the processors and wholesalers, and they admit with a pause and a guilty gulp that a majority of the "colossal" crab claws go to Las Vegas and the Saudi peninsula.
      Pompano is a delicate, expensive fish with a short shelf life. I find no fault with Publix that they elect not to carry it. And frankly, I like it that there is not the mass-market pressure that would cause the specie to be over-fished and consequently over-priced.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        One of your neighbors is bound to have a tree. Had a tree all my life growing up and I have to say our mangos were far more delicious than any I ever got from the market.

        1. re: Icantread

          No mangos in the 'hood, but enough pink grapefruit, oranges, and honey bells that we can hardly give them away. And it's been a very good, sweet season.
          I'm jealous about your mangos, and I'm working for you on a spanish modification of an old song, "don't sit under the mango tree, con alguien otro de mi" :)

        2. re: Veggo

          Publix's fish counters are so gnarly that it's fortunate that pompano is not squandered on them.

          If you want local product, Publix is not the place to go. Though they are a Florida-based chain, they source product nationally and presumably go with whoever can supply something cheapest - which doesn't necessarily mean the closest. But generally, comparing Publix with Dean & Deluca doesn't really make for a fair comparison - one is a gigantic mega-chain, the other is a gourmet specialty retailer. A better question is why the local gourmet specialty retailers (Epicure, Norman's, Gardner's, etc.) don't make more of an effort to carry more local product. You will see some at the Fresh Markets and Whole Foods but not a lot. I have seen Florida-grown fava beans at both Norman's and Publix when they're in season here.

          However, if you go to any local fish market (Garcia's, Casablance, Captain Jim, etc.) you will have no trouble finding plenty of local fish and seafood. Locally grown fruit and veg is indeed harder to find unless you're willing to go down south where its grown.

          If you haven't eaten a Florida mango you need to make better friends with your neighbors. Just about every third house in Miami has a mango tree and during the season in the summer they almost always have more than they know what to do with (unless some "entrepeneurs" have come by and taken them off their tree in the night). Nothing beats a perfectly ripe mango from the backyard tree.

          As for "colossal" stone crab claws, I've always been a fan of the smaller sizes anyway - a little more work but the meat is sweeter. Colossals are for lazy rich people (like those in Las Vegas, Saudi Arabia and Dubai). Let the crabbers get top dollar for them.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            I don't think I've ever passed by a Publix seafood stand that did not smell quite a bit like fish. And no, fish should not smell like that.

            1. re: Icantread

              I so agree with you, our Publix fish counter stinks and so do the aisles nearest to it. I was thinking about saying something to the manager last week, my eyes were watering from the smell.

            2. re: Frodnesor

              I agree comparing D&D to Publix was not a good comparison, but when I see more imported salmon and shrimp in the fish dept. vs. local stuff it irks me a bit.

              And you're right, the question is why don't local specialty retailers make more of an effort to carry more local stuff? I admit Gardner's and Norman Bros. make an effort to carry local product, but when Norman Bros. meyers come from California there's no excuse.

              And MLV, you've got a point too. The Redlands area as well as Robert obviously focus on local stuff, but why do we have to make the trek down there? Why don't local grocers carry sapodillas, etc.? Is it a lack of educating the public? Is it a public that doesn't want to be educated about what we have locally? And I'd love to see eggfruit desserts after my disaster with canistel the other day (

              And I'd forgotten about exporting of crab claws. Those are luckily still fairly easy to procure in Miami. One thing that's not, and that comes from just up the coast and is definitely exported, is rock shrimp. Rock shrimp only comes from Florida yet I could only find 1 place in Miami that carried it (and it wasn't Publix). Meanwhile in L.A. I could get frozen rock shrimp for less than $8 at Trader Joe's. Hmmmmm.

              1. re: lax2mia

                Whole Foods in South Miami had rock shrimp when I was there. Also had pompano. And Key West pink shrimp. There's not much explanation that I can figure out for the general unavailability of rock shrimp since they freeze well.

                1. re: Frodnesor

                  That's just it. Whole Foods, a national chain, is doing a better job of carrying local stuff than our own local chains and upscale markets. WF also carries longans, monesteras, canistels and other local stuff. It's pathetic that a grocer in NYC has better access to our produce and seafood than our own local grocers?

                  And the rock shrimp unavailability bugs me.

                  1. re: lax2mia

                    BTW I had no idea Meyer lemons were grown locally, commercially or otherwise.

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      Same here till I saw them at the nursery. I found a place online in Central Florida that's shipping a tree out as we speak. The first time I saw them on sale commercially was at D&D. Was going to see if I could talk to the produce manager about where he got them but the place was a madhouse.

              2. re: Frodnesor

                Side note - we had some colossal stone crabs from Captain Jim's on Monday night. BF went in for mediums and found they were "overstocked" on the colossals. I think a lot of places don't carry fresh, local, perishable food because a most people don't go out of their way to buy it. Sadly.


            3. In terms of fish, it's probably far easier for Publix to deal with three large scale high volume vendors from wherever than forty different small local commercial fishing operations. And better for consumers to hit one of the five different small fishmarkets in town that sells from those small commercial fishermen, and involves fish that was swimming in the Gulf yesterday.

              There's also the matter of the big chains being less tolerant of product having a specific season. Their shoppers want predictability, so it's not in their plan to offer local cobia since local cobia is only available for 4-6 weeks at a time yet to be determined.

              I've got to say that the FL tomatoes available down here are far better than what I can find in general supermarkets in the Midwest. And the Plant City winter strawberries are far better than the summer California imports we get here.

              1. I've only seen Pompano in the smaller private owned fish markets in season and never in Publix here in Florida. There's not enough supply to make it to mass circulation from what I know. How you found it in NYC I haven't a clue.

                1 Reply
                1. re: freakerdude

                  I see pompano at the fish counter in Citerella downtown NYC on a fairly regular basis. Here, I was surprised when Michael's had it on the menu as their special fish ( which was by the way, fantastic ).
                  I've been having good luck wit tomatoes at the Legions Park farmer's market on Biscayne and 66th - saturdays. The last time I was there they also had a real deal on stone crabs - a guy selling them out of his truck for 7.99 a pound. Small to medium sized, but delicious and luxurious to have such a big bowl!

                2. Another home grown item that has me wonder where it goes, is Florida pink gulf shrimp. I can get them, all right, but the farm raised shrimp from Asia that are deveined by passing through machinery, seem to be dominating the markets. I happily pay the $4 or so premium per pound for Florida shrimp, because the farmed crap from Asia is gray and flaccid and flavorless. The Gulf shrimp have a wonderful firm texture because they actually had to work for a living. And much more flavor.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Veggo

                    I've seen Key West pink shrimp at Whole Foods and Fresh Market. In response to another post, yes it's known as "Whole Paycheck" everywhere.

                    As for ugly tomatoes, perversely, local growers had to do battle with the Florida Tomato Committee in order to export them out of state->