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King Farm Myakka: Quality produce for area tables

MYAKKA — Early one morning this week, a refrigerated food truck from a Tampa restaurant arrived at King Farm Myakka to collect a load of squash blossoms, as Ben and Shelby King inspected their sweet corn and communicated by walkie-talkie phone with some of their farmworkers.

Local chefs seek out not only the squash blossoms, but blueberries, heirloom tomatoes, black-eyed peas, sweet corn, okra, bell peppers, peaches and more from King Farm Myakka.

Food-savvy people sing the praises of freshness, flavor and quality of produce fresh from the fields.

Tommy Klauber of Polo Grill and Bar at Lakewood Ranch is one of the couple’s fans.

“They couldn’t be nicer, and they do an excellent job with anything they grow,” Klauber said.

Klauber remembers Ben King showing up at his back door with four crates of parsnips once, after mentioning that he was interested in finding a local source for the vegetable.

John E. Matthews, senior forager for Suncoast Food Alliance, which works to get local produce into area restaurants, is equally enthusiastic about King Farm Myakka, on Myakka-Wauchula Road, north of Myakka City.

“They are terrific people and terrific farmers,” Matthews said.

It’s easy to miss King Farm Myakka, located on 220 acres and identified only with a tiny sign at the entrance.

It’s out of the way from local population centers, and is not set up to sell to the occasional stray customer that may show up. But the Kings are working to get their produce out to more outlets, including Crowder Bros.-Ace Hardware, 5409 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; the 10th Street Market in Palmetto; Greens on the Grow, 2309 Ellenton-Gillette Road, Ellenton; Market Fresh Produce, 704 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton; and Connie’s Produce, 11015 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.

Ben and Shelby King were showing a visitor around the farm recently, when Ben broke a couple of ears of sweet corn off a stalk, husked it, and shared it with the guest. The juicy corn was sweet and tender, and good to eat raw.

The Kings are third-generation Manatee County residents, humble, God-fearing and proud of their stewardship of the land and the crops they produce. It’s in their blood. Shelby’s grandfather, Lewis Hamilton, at one time farmed together with Ben’s grandfather, Jack Taylor.

Jack Taylor’s farming operation eventually became incorporated as Taylor and Fulton, one of the area’s major tomato producing companies.

Ben King worked for Taylor and Fulton for years, before deciding to farm on a smaller scale and raise a greater diversity of crops.

In 2005, Ben King begin plowing the ground for what would become King Farm Myakka. He and two of his workers laid miles of pipe for irrigating crops.

While they have won praise for the taste and quality of their fruits and vegetables, it has not been a easy row to hoe. Their crops suffered this winter from a fickle cold snap, and they were hurt by last year’s salmonella scare.

The Kings say that love of the land, and the challenges of making it pay, “feed your character and your soul.”

When the couple’s three children became old enough, Shelby joined Ben in the operation full-time. She handles the bookkeeping, marketing and sales.

“I knew it would consume me because it consumes Ben,” Shelby said of the passion the couple share for the farm.

On Mothers’ Day, produce from the farm set the King family table, which included fried okra, onion rings, stuffed green peppers, heirloom tomatoes (renowned for their rich, old-fashioned taste), blueberries and peaches.

The farm even produced the venison for the meal.

When they talk about the farm, the Kings start by talking about it being family-owned. “We’re talking about the five of us and our families,” Ben King said.

Their young children have taken a liking to the family enterprise, too.

“The boys already think they will farm for a living,” Ben King said.

For information about King Farm Myakka, call 773-1624 or e-mail kingfarmmyakka@verizon.net.

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