The University of Florida hosted a tour of Manatee County farms on Friday to celebrate three decades of participation in Farm City Week.
From November 8 to 20, Farm City Week celebrated the partnership between rural and urban communities that helps maintain the plentiful and local food supply. This year’s theme highlighted some of Manatee’s thriving farms.
“The idea is to introduce people to the farms so that people can understand the huge impact they have on Manatee County,” said Crystal Snodgrass, director of UF / IFAS.
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The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Office in Manatee County organized a group tour of local farms. Here’s a look at the hidden gems:
West Coast Family Tomato Farms / McClure
West Coast Tomato Farm, owned by the McClure family, has been growing tomatoes in Manatee County for over 100 years.
The farm specializes in growing green tomatoes instead of red ones. According to Todd McClure, Fifth Generation Field Policy Manager at West Coast Tomato, farmers are focusing on collecting green tomatoes just before they transition to red so that when the product finally hits stores, they are fully ripe.
“I wake up and I am excited to do things on the farm,” said McClure. “And although not everyone likes tomatoes as much as we do, it’s impressive how many are interested in our day-to-day farming activities.”
All tomatoes are planted and picked by hand. This is something the McClure family is proud of, dedicating time and manpower to their product. After being picked by hand, the tomatoes are distributed to store-restaurants.
Wish / G&D Strawberry Farms
Wish Farms is another local farm that has been around for almost 100 years. Founded in 1922, three generations of Wishnatzki have cultivated berries, including strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
Nick Wishnatzki, public relations manager for Wish Farms, thinks it’s important for people to shop locally and know where their food comes from.
“Meanwhile, we have this wonderful industry here in our backyard, and a lot of people don’t realize who the big agriculture is here,” he said. “So it’s important for Floridians to realize that they have this great industry here. “
While Wish Farms grows all the berries you know and love, the farm has also been working on growing a new berry: the pineberry. It is a natural hybrid of strawberries and pineapple. A ripe pineapple will be white or slightly pinkish and will taste like a mixture of the two fruits. According to Wishnatzki, the farm’s pineapples will be in stores across Florida starting in January.
The next stop on the tour was Duette Preserve, the largest conservation land in Manatee County, with over 21,000 acres of wilderness that provide protected habitat for an array of native plants and wildlife.
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The reserve is home to game and non-game animals, including turkeys, deer and snakes. It is also home to rare species like the Florida jay and the gopher turtle.
Although the Duette Reserve is not a traditional farmhouse in a sense, the land serves as the seat of the Manatee River, which provides the municipal water supply for Manatee County, making it an important mainstay of agriculture in the community.
Wiers Farm in Manatee County spans over 350 acres and offers a variety of bell peppers, jalapenos, and banana peppers.
Although the Wiers family began farming in 1896 in Ohio, they expanded their operations here in Florida. With several farms, their products are shipped across the United States