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‘Taste of Lee’: Second annual event offers savory sample of what’s available in county

By Staff | Jul 15, 2009

The folks behind next weekend’s “Taste of Lee” want people to experience something unusual; they want guests to go beyond their normal perceptions of just exactly what they think fruits and vegetables are supposed to look and taste like.
Co-sponsored by the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange and the University of Florida/IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) program, the second annual “Taste of Lee” is expanding upon the unexpected success of last year’s event.
Publicity Chairwoman and Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange member Rachel Singletary said the two groups were ultimately surprised by the number of people who turned out to see what the “Taste of Lee” had to offer.
Held at the Riverside Community Center in Fort Myers last year, the free event drew more than 1,500, making the inaugural “Taste” a commanding success.
“We were very surprised,” Singletary said. “We’re hoping for the same turnout this year … it was surprising to see how much the public enjoyed it, and how patient they were to stand in line and taste the fruit.”
The turnout was so good it caused much of the Riverside Community Center to be stacked with wall to wall bodies.
People stood in lines that looked more like they should be leading to a roller coaster than to a table stocked with samples of exotic and tropical fruits.
People didn’t mind waiting because at the end of their sojourn was a wonderland of alien flavors that most had never heard of, let alone tasted.
The tasting table was stocked with a virtual “who’s who” of the rare fruit world. Lychees, moringa, faults roselle, dragon fruit, sapodilla, Okinawa spinach and Seminole pumpkin were just a few of the exotic names that graced the pallets of those who were patient enough to stand in line.
This year, Singletary and her crew hope to have alleviated those lines by moving the Taste to a new location with more space.
The First Baptist Chruch of Fort Myers, on Jackson Street in the heart of the Fort Myers River District, will serve as the new home of this year’s taste.
Singletary said the added space will make this year’s event much easier to navigate for attendees, and people won’t have to wait very long to wrap their taste buds around all the unfamiliar flavors that await.
“We were kind of limited in our space last year. But this year we have kitchen facilities so we can cut the fruit better and have it readily available for people to taste,” Singletary said. “People were so nice about waiting last year. This year, they’re not going to have to wait.”
Beyond the opportunity to sample rare delectables, the event’s purpose is to showcase what many local growers have to offer.
Small farms, and farmers, are the focus of the University of Florida/IFAS program. The Lee County Extension Service from this program has been working with local growers since 1922. It is made up of a group of agents who serve the community, offering consultation in areas including agriculture, marine science, nutrition, water management and horticulture.
As an agricultural and natural resources agent, Roy Beckford helped to create the “Taste of Lee” because he wanted to encourage farming and display what Lee County had to offer.
Like Singletary, Beckford too was surprised at just how successful last year’s Taste was. He thinks the event really helped to inform people about Lee County’s growing potential. He added that Lee County is in the top 5 percent of all counties in Florida with the highest number of independent farms.
“The profile and interest level has definitely been raised,” Beckford said. “The inaugural event tried to get people to understand what it is we’re trying to do … the point is to make people aware of what’s happening locally, of what we can grow and produce.”
Beckford anticipates this year’s Taste will, in the very least, match last year in terms of the sheer numbers of people who show up.
Singletary, too, thinks things will be even better, especially since the two organizations have made strides to change things like switching locations for more space.
Parking last year became kind of unruly, but this year there’s a parking garage, parking at the church and plenty of off-street parking available.
Fruit is expected to brought in from Miami just days before the event. And Steve Curcura is supposed to bring fruit from his nursery and fruit stand on Pine Island, which aligns with the spirit of locally grown foods.
The number of vendors will also expand, giving attendees the change to pick up educational information, along with locally caught seafood, locally produced honey, fruit trees and even free ice cream, to name a few.
Everything worked so well last year, even Singletary was surprised by some of the things she had never seen before.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I was really pleased last year with some of the fruit I had never seen,” she said. “Last year we got to spread the word. Our club even ended up with some new members because of the turnout.”
The second annual “Taste of Lee” is at the First Baptist Church in downtown Fort Myers, Saturday, July 18, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Admission is $1, or one can of food, per person. All food is donated to CCMI Food Kitchen. For more information, call 533-7514.