Spring ushers in fresh veggies By Debbie McChesney
Our beloved Seaside Farmers Market champions talented, hardworking and trusted vendors all year round. As the weather warms and spring awakens here in South Walton, fresh produce options will become even more bountiful. Talking to one of our local farmers it’s clear the season ahead will be prime for the picking.
Watching Mikael L’Andre, aka “The GreenMan,” in his element is powerful to witness. Nearly every guest approaching his tent is presented an insightful discussion about the produce on hand. L’Andre is a 15th- generation farmer with ancestry tied all the way back to the Mayflower, and it’s evident gardening is in his blood. (In fact, his first word was “snap” as he stretched up to pluck a snap bean from his family’s garden.) A Walton County native, his 10-acre farm in DeFuniak Springs provides local restaurants and markets a weekly supply of chemical-free and non-GMO produce.
Mikael L’Andre first visited the Seaside Farmers Market in 2011, not knowing he would soon return as a vendor. Blue Owl Landscaping, L’Andre’s company, was up and running. After a 34-foot fall that nearly killed him, he lay on his back for months designing a beautiful garden plan. “Believing we could build that plan in the future was my hope,” L’Andre explains. He recovered and used all of his landscaping equipment to build the garden that once existed only in his imagination.
Through his recuperation he discovered the miraculous qualities of turmeric. L’Andre now specializes in the growing of turmeric. He explains, “by utilizing the whole plant the honey bees are enabled to forage nectar from the flower.” He then harvests the honey and mixes the two for a honey-turmeric potion. Three forms of turmeric: concentrated juice, honey infusion and dried powder, are available.
Remaining loyal to his customers while also maintaining high standards of sustainability is an ongoing challenge. L’Andre uses coffee grounds from Seaside’s Amavida Coffee Roasters for compost and growing mushrooms. The coffee bags are also recycled, used for packing sweet potatoes and winter squash. Ashes from the wood-fired pizza oven at Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar are utilized to sweeten the soil in the arugula beds. During the cold weather they use the frozen produce to feed the horses, chickens and rabbits, which in turn provides excellent compost. The good soil creates healthy plants and “a very exquisite, intense flavor.”
L’Andres now sells his fresh produce at the Seaside Farmers Market and to neighboring restaurants. You can find his produce at Bud & Alleys, Great Southern Café, Ji•Shi Ki•chn, The Pearl Hotel, For The Health of it and many others. At the market he sells a variety of in season vegetables but always has his turmeric on hand.
“The market has led me to interact with people from around the world, allowing me to share their love of good food and to glean from them new tips and tricks of the trade,” L’Andre says. It also has given him many opportunities to grow his work in a variety of ways. He volunteers at The Emeril LaGasse Culinary Program at The Seaside Neighborhood School where he works side by side with the students in the school garden. “While volunteering, I realized how much I love imparting the knowledge developed over 30 years of gardening.” This experience has turned into a viable garden consultation business.
L’Andre expressed his gratitude to Daryl and Robert Davis for providing the farmers market experience. “Seaside is a special place for me. It will always be in my heart,” he says. “This season will culminate in over five hundred trips to this little, magical circle in Seaside.”
Market shoppers can pick up heirloom arugula, endive, lettuce, kale, collards, carrots, blackberries and broccoli this spring. For summer, L’Andre will offer heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, French beans, sweet corn, watermelon and more. You can also see L’Andre’s photography, featuring photographs of his garden, at The Trujillo Gallery in Ruskin place.
Any visit to Seaside should include a stop at The GreenMans Garden stand on Saturday mornings to meet this charismatic man and take home some magical and tasty produce.