Local Heroes

Left photo by Don Guy. Right photo by Kim Longstreet.

Left photo by Don Guy. Right photo by Kim Longstreet.

They are the torch carriers of the local food movement - business owners, chefs, farmers, and humanitarians who are devoted to enriching the Southwest Florida economy with sound ethics and scrumptious cuisine. At the Edible Institute’s Annual Publishers Meeting in Santa Barbara, California, in mid-March, our Local Hero Awards were announced, and here they are. Congratulations to all! What a delicious quintet.

Farm/Farmer: Jessica’s Organic Farm Stand - Bill and Pam Pischer

Jessica’s emerged as one of the original organic growers in the Sunshine State back in 1979, and owners Bill and Pam Pischer have been dedicated to sustainability ever since. At their five-acre plot on 47th Street in Sarasota, they sell only 100 percent certified organic produce, never using genetically modified organisms, synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. There are no antibiotics in their dairy products, and all of their eggs are from grass-fed, free-range, Amish-raised hens. Patrons drop by Friday through Sunday for crops such as arugula, Swiss chard, wheatgrass, fennel, endive, pistachios, macadamia nuts, goat gouda cheese, and local wildflower honey. “We harvest what we sell right onsite, and some of our customers have been coming here for over 20 years,” says Bill Pischer, whose land was initially a U-pick strawberry farm before it evolved into its current in-demand destination. “It’s a great place for people who are interested in a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Jessica’s Organic Farm: 4180 47th St, Sarasota; 941- 993-2064; jessicasorganicfarm.com

Chef/Restaurant: Indigenous - Chef Steve Phelps

When locavores think of true-to-the-region cuisine, one adjective comes to mind: indigenous. The brainchild of restaurateur/chef Steve Phelps, Indigenous opened in September 2011 in Sarasota’s Towles Court Artist Colony, and it continues to woo food connoisseurs countrywide. Phelps’ menu of seasonal American fare changes all year, depending on peak produce availability.

Diners might be treated to such delicacies as Mote Marine sturgeon in citrus honey balsamic marinade; caramelized eggplant and wild mushrooms with Lundberg rice risotto; “hook-to-fork” Gulf and Atlantic species; or pork belly with fig and balsamic glaze, bleu cheese mousse and wontons. “Indigenous has gone above and beyond what I expected. We just had a vision to have this little restaurant that served the best fish in town from captains throughout the Suncoast,” Phelps says. “For the quality of food we’ve been putting out, and because of our knowledgeable servers, we’ve become kind of an educational restaurant experience. There is such honesty here in what we serve, and I think that’s something Sarasota really wanted.”

Indigenous: 239 S. Links Ave, Sarasota; 941-706-4740; indigenoussarasota.com

Left photo by Angela Jenkins. Right photo by Maria Lyle.

Left photo by Angela Jenkins. Right photo by Maria Lyle.

Food Shop: TransAtlantic Sausage Company - Jim and Maureen Urbaniak

Peddling the kielbasa and poppy-seed pastries your grandmother used to make, Jim and Maureen Urbaniak of TransAtlantic Sausage Company have offered ethnic eats to Sarasota since June 2010. The couple learned artisan sausage craftsmanship from a Hungarian master who had been casing meats for 50 years, and then collected a trove of global recipes and bought a storefront. In their inventory are smoked kielbasa, bratwurst, English bangers, Italian sweet and spicy sausages, Mexican chorizo, Vermont maple-cured bacon, orangewood smoked bacon, pulled pork, marinated flank steak, corned beef, and jalapeño and cranberry-honey mustards. On the bakery front are Dutch apple strudels, hamantashen, and nut rolls. “We’re a unique combination in that we’re a bakery as well as a sausage producer,” Jim Urbaniak says. “We sell Old-World, artisan, handcrafted foods with no preservatives. The way it used to be done in Europe, it was very common for the butcher and baker to be near each other, and people seem to love that, especially because Sarasota is so ethnically diverse.”

TransAtlantic Sausage Company: 6620 Gateway Ave, Sarasota; 941-921-2253; transatlanticsausage.com

Photo by Michael Short.

Photo by Michael Short.

Nonprofit: Transition Sarasota - Don Hall

Champions of green living and local agriculture, Transition Sarasota is a nonprofit organization that has brought Eat Local Week and a slew of related, community-driven events to Sarasota. Founded by Don Hall in 2010, the organization is part of the global Transition Movement, which is dedicated to rebuilding cities and promoting self-reliance as a response to climate changes and economic crises. By sponsoring educational programs and encouraging dialogue, Transition Sarasota hopes to help the city reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and strengthen its economy. Gatherings such as field-and-stream dinners, sustainability conferences and the aforementioned Eat Local Week (an annual celebration in March of the best local foods and farmers in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties) feed into Transition Sarasota’s mission. “I think we’re putting forth a different vision of where Sarasota can go in the future—a vision of a more sustainable, vibrant, self-reliant, creative community, where our homes and businesses are powered by renewable energy,” Hall says. “There’s a renaissance of local food and farming going on in the Sarasota area, and we are making a difference in that.”

Transition Sarasota: 941-408-3374; transitionsrq.org

Food/Beverage Artisan: Heavenly Cupcakes - Becky Schultes

From her decadent whoopie pies to her gluten- free pastries, entrepreneur Becky Schultes at Heavenly Cupcakes covers the entire sweets spectrum. Schultes bought the commercial bakery in August, after it had been under previous ownership since 2008, and tweaked the menu to cater to patrons with varying dietary restrictions. Because she is a certified level one CrossFit trainer, Schultes incorporates aspects of the Paleolithic diet into her recipes. She now makes “Paleo bread” and “Paleo granola bars,” along with more traditional confections such as wedding cakes and, of course, cupcakes. Her two shops are located in Sarasota’s Gulf Gate district and on Siesta Key, and her shelves are stocked with flavors such as Cuckoo for Coconut and Peanut Butter in Paradise. “We have the best icing around, and I try to use a lot of local vendors for my ingredients when I can,” Schultes says. “Most of the CrossFit athletes I know follow the Paleo diet, so there is that niche market, and Sarasota has responded really well to that. Also, people love coming in for Whoopie Pie Wednesdays (buy three pies and get one free) and Thirsty Thursdays for $1 icing shots. We have a lot of fun here.”

Heavenly Cupcakes: 6538 Gateway Ave, Sarasota; 941-922-0024. 5212 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota; 941-346-0024; myheavenlycupcakes.com