After a year of researching, dining, cruising, some tweeting and blogging, and basically getting to know Royal Caribbean International through one of its best assets (and tour guides!), Vice President of Food & Beverage Frank Weber, today we are finally cooking aboard Port Everglades, Fla., based cruise ship Oasis of the Seas as Michael prepares his new locally-sourced menus to debut October 29 at its upscale dining venue, 150 Central Park. The thinking is, let Michael lend his expertise as a chef committed to sustainable and seasonal food sourcing to help the cruise line integrate produce sourced from small, family-owned Florida farms into 150 Central Park’s supply chain. Chef de cuisine Jamie Seyba, a familiar face in the MGFD kitchen, will be embedded on-board to execute Michael’s menus. First up? Jodi Swank, of Swank Specialty Produce in Loxahatchee, no stranger to diners at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. Her baby baby beets, pak choi, arugula, and cress will be stars of new dishes, as well as favorites from our restaurants in Miami and Grand Cayman and the cookbook, MICHAEL’S GENUINE FOOD: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat. More to come on this project as we get closer to launch, including a webisode series on royalcaribbean.com sharing the farm to ship process, but first let’s get to know Jodi and her farm a little better with this Q&A below.
What were you doing before you became a farmer? Landscaping design and Electrician.
How did you get started in farming? 1st inspiration was my dad’s family. They were small farmers in Pennsylvania. Then a visit to The Land Exhibit in Epcot in 1982 was really what sparked my interest in hydroponics
Describe what’s going on right now at Swank Specialty Produce and what’s growing? Are you preparing for the start of the main growing season to kick in and how? What’s growing are tomato’s, squash and zucchini, beans, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, eggplants, peppers, lettuces and specialty greens, herbs, micro greens, micro herbs, leeks, scallions, cauliflower, broccoli…. We will be ready by October 14th to email our 1st product list of the season.
What do you sell the most of and where do you see other opportunities product-wise? Our leaf lettuces are the most popular. We see ourself growing more baby vegetables and root vegetables too.
What are Michael and his team like to work with? Very easy going, accommodating, and never a problem!
How important are your relationships with chefs to your business? Very important. They are the original segment of our business and still the strongest.
What makes for a good farming operation? Organization, a good team of workers, and a farming system that works for you with as little inputs as possible ,where you can grow a diversified line of products.
What does this program with Royal Caribbean mean to you and the farm? What products are they utilizing, how much volume is being purchased and how often will Fresh Point be picking up? Fresh Point is expected to pickup once a week, every Friday. They will pickup beets, radishes, arugula, cress mixes, baby fennel, baby red amaranth, baby pac choi, and Swank Farm, color/texture mix (spring mix) between 30-40 cases a week. This is on the larger side of a restaurant account. Having our product on board the largest cruise ship in the world, is great exposure for us. We’re excited!!!
You are one of the few small family farms that delivers to restaurants. How often do you make deliveries and how many stops do you make? We deliver Monday – Thursday weekly. On average, we make 8-12 stops per night.
Where else can people find your product being sold? Swank Farm has a double booth at the West Palm Beach Green Market which begins on Saturday, October 15th from 8-1pm . We have also partnerned with Whole Foods, using 4 stores as drop off locations for our CSA program which also begins on 10/17.
How big is your farm and how many people work for you (what’s the lead grower’s name?) Darrin J. Swank, Lead grower, owner and farmer, and delivery driver. Our farm is 20 acres. Currently utilizing 70,000 square feet . We just lazer leveled another 5 acres. When put into full production, we will have 270,000 sqaure feet. Right now, we have 7 workers, including myself. In another 2 months we will add 3 more.
Anything else? Swank Specialty Produce, Hydro Natural Farm. No fungicide, No herbicide, No pesticide!