Discover some of the many ways to enjoy Florida's home-grown produce
On Florida's West Coast, neighboring Hernando and Pasco Counties grow vegetables, melons, berries, olives and wine grapes that promise delicious and locally grown culinary adventures. Follow these five tips to celebrate wild berries, take in a concert amid an olive grove and sample award-winning wine.
1. Bountiful blueberries
These brilliant blue orbs are big business in Hernando and Pasco Counties, where some 350 farms make up the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. Over the years, farmers have discovered heat-resistant strains that thrive under the Florida sunshine, and a new packinghouse recently opened to support production. When you’re planning your visit, consider the annual Florida Blueberry Festival in April to celebrate the berry through food and drink (there’s live music, too). And notice how area restaurants find inventive ways to feature the berries on their menus — imagine a blueberry reduction, among other delights.
Roll up your sleeves and grab a bucket: Hernando and Pasco Counties are studded with U-pick farms, some of which are certified organic. Enjoy a day in the sun and take home the freshest possible blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and more. (Some farms even plant thornless varieties to protect pickers’ arms.) Most farms charge by the pound, and do-it-yourself berry-picking can be a bargain.
Local farmers invite culinary adventurers for festivals and do-it-yourself fruit picking.
3. Little Rock Cannery
Preserve those fresh-picked treasures at this beloved community cannery, which has provided space, equipment and advice to home canners for decades. Bring your produce here and experienced canners will guide you through the preserving process. Visitors can use the facility for $10 per day.
4. The Olive Grove
Learn about olive farming with a visit to The Olive Grove, an organic olive orchard with more than 200 trees. Olives have been cultivated in Florida since the 1700s, though this is one of the few orchards in the state. The Olive Grove hosts concerts, as well as workshops on crafts such as soap-making and infusing olive oil. The orchard is also home to a farm store that sells raw olives, olive oil, vinegars, soaps and jams, though the orchard’s lush scenery alone is worth the visit.
5. Strong Tower Vineyard
Sip Florida-grown and produced wine at beautiful Strong Tower Vineyard, home to three grape varietals (and several awards from the Florida International Wine Competition). Visitors are encouraged to sample the wines — from whites to reds to even blueberry and strawberry varietals — and can also take part in grape picking during the harvest season.