Down on the farm

By on August 22, 2014

 

Fresh produce thriving in West Orange County

Lake Meadow Naturals, in Ocoee, raises cage-free chickens that are fed a vegetarian diet and produce fresh eggs free of added hormones and antibiotics. Visitors to the farm can explore the grounds, pick out their own eggs and talk to the animals.

Lake Meadow Naturals, in Ocoee, raises cage-free chickens that are fed a vegetarian diet and produce fresh eggs free of added hormones and antibiotics. Visitors to the farm can explore the grounds, pick out their own eggs and talk to the animals.

Wholesome food and produce has become increasingly more available throughout West Orange County, with farms offering distinct goods and services to residents — whether it be at farmers markets, door-to-door deliveries or on-site visits to see where it’s all created. Lake Meadow Naturals and Lee Farms Webster are two notable farms offering unique opportunities to the area, such as farm-fresh eggs with public picking hours and assorted fruit and vegetable basket deliveries, respectively.

Lake Meadow Naturals
The inner workings of a local farm can be explored just down the road. Visitors can see exactly where their food comes from, help feed the animals and pick out their own eggs among the chickens. Lake Meadow Naturals, in Ocoee, raises cage-free chicken and ducks to produce local, high-quality eggs for the public and educate visitors about the “farm to table” experience.

Goats roam the farm at Lake Meadow Naturals and often come right up to the fence to be pet by visitors.

Goats roam the farm at Lake Meadow Naturals and often come right up to the fence to be pet by visitors.

With a store on-site, the farm also has a variety of produce, cheeses, antibiotic-free poultry with no genetically modified organisms and no added hormones, as well as pork, lamb, goat and bison — also raised free of antibiotics, growth hormones, preservatives and nitrates.

The farm has made its food available to the broad public at retail stores, farmers markets, restaurants and hotels throughout Florida, including local places such as the Winter Garden Farmer’s Market and Urban Flats.

“Lake Meadow is helping bridge the gap between small farms and restaurants,” Farm Manager Brandon Kunkel said.

Dale Volkert, owner of Lake Meadow Naturals, moved from his family dairy farm in Wisconsin to pursue his dream of raising cage-free chickens. He hoped to reconnect people with how their food is produced and create a place where they could see it — like he experienced when he was a child.

The chickens at Lake Meadow Naturals lay clean, quality eggs from small to jumbo. They are available in the farm store, or visitors can pick them from the nests.

The chickens at Lake Meadow Naturals lay clean, quality eggs from small to jumbo. They are available in the farm store, or visitors can pick them from the nests.

Volkert’s father gave him his first flock of chickens for a 4-H youth project back in 1960. In 2004, when he bought the Lake Meadow property, chickens were sent in honor of his father from the same hatchery. Volkert began raising the birds to lay hormone-free eggs, and soon the demand for clean and locally produced foods led to restaurants wanting Lake Meadow Naturals on the menu.

“The farm has grown slowly and steady, and we focus on what is sustainable and are in a constant state of educating ourselves and our customers,” Kunkel said.

Egg collecting and tours
The farm is open for egg picking on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An employee will take visitors out to the hen house, teach how to find the best eggs and guide them along the way. Guests should bring their own recycled egg cartons, if possible.

Tours are given by appointment and show the processing room where the eggs are cleaned and graded. Guests can see the many gardens and bee houses where fresh honey is made. Goats, ducks, geese, chickens, peacocks, swans and more are visible right from the driveway, and visitors are welcome to pet the animals that come close by. To schedule a tour, call (321) 206-6262, Ext. 2.

Lee Farms
Dedicated to providing natural produce, Lee Farms is manned by three generations of the Lee family. Austin Lee; his father, Robert; his wife, Christina; and their children carry on the legacy of the land — begun many generations ago under the Lee name. They work together to create assorted, in-season fruit and vegetable baskets to a variety of locations, with new items to try each week. Customers can look forward to a fresh surprise either at the farmers market, local pick-up stations or even hand-delivered to their doorstep.

Robert Lee spends time with his grandchildren Madelynne, Tyler, Wyatt, Adreya and Brendyn Lee while they pick spaghetti squash.

Robert Lee spends time with his grandchildren Madelynne, Tyler, Wyatt, Adreya and Brendyn Lee while they pick spaghetti squash.

The farm is located in Webster, but has made West Orange County a priority on its delivery route, currently serving those in Oakland and Winter Garden. Every Thursday from 3-6 p.m., the Lees can be found in the Mosaic Church parking lot, 608 W. Oakland Ave., Oakland, with pre-made baskets and other produce for sale. They also deliver directly to Oakland and Winter Garden homes on the same day.

When the recession hit in 2010, the Lees began growing food to make it through the difficult time. Eventually, they had enough to sell at local farmers markets in Webster, and word began to get out about the family’s work — growing non-GMO, organic products.

“Local people started driving all the way to the Villages [market] to come buy our produce,” Christina Lee said. “We had one loyal customer who asked if I would consider putting a basket together each week and if I would meet her at the elementary school to bring it to her. Our first week, we sold one basket. By the next week, we were up to eight. Since then, through Facebook and word-of-mouth, we have grown and grown.”

Family teamwork
Austin and Christina have seven children — Brendyn, 13, Tyler, 9, Madelynne, 7, Adreya, 5, Wyatt, 4, Cassidy, 2, and Cade, 4 months. Working together as a team, the Lee family has formed a special bond. Brendyn assists with farming operation and deliveries, and Tyler can be seen at the Oakland/Winter Garden drop-offs. His mom said he has “quite a few fans” due to his basket-filling skills, along with his sister, Madelynne. Adreya loves to sing her “buy corn” cheer, to draw in customers at the market, and Wyatt is their “potato man,” keeping baskets filled.

Even the younger kids help out on the farm, picking easy items such as green beans and squash. They hold bean-picking contests to see who can fill their bucket the quickest, and Christina said even little Cassidy helps pull squash off the vines.

Cassidy Lee, 2, loves to play on the farm with her brothers and sisters.

Cassidy Lee, 2, loves to play on the farm with her brothers and sisters.

“They get the opportunity to learn very valuable life skills,” Christina Lee said. “They see exactly what goes into every dollar we make, and understand what a ‘bad’ week looks and feels like. They are able to take pride in what we do as a family. This is every bit as much their farm as it is ours.”

What’s in the baskets
Lee Farms offers three basket options: Farmer’s Choice, Traditional and Fruit. The Farmers Choice contains mostly vegetables with a little fruit and offers more unique options such as beets, kohlrabi, Swiss chard and turnips. The Traditional also holds a majority of vegetables of a more popular variety. The Lees recently added the Fruit basket to the menu, a medley of the best of the harvest. All the baskets come in two sizes. The small serves one to three people for $15; the large serves four to six and is $25. To order, visit leefarmswebster.com.

“We are in a rare place where we can see so much the blessings we have in our life,” Christina Lee said. “We value every single customer that has ordered from us and we appreciate them for giving us the opportunity to do this and be together.”

About Shari Roach

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