Cooking With Local Chefs

Cooking with Chef Jim Copening | Explore Manatee's local foods, flavors

Arts & Eats restaurant uses fresh Florida pompano and locally grown produce. 
Arts & Eats restaurant uses fresh Florida pompano and locally grown produce. PHOTO PROVIDED

We live and work in a tropical oasis of colorful and delicious foods. Florida ranks second in the value of vegetable production; first in production value for oranges, grapefruit, snap beans, sweet corn, watermelons, cucumbers, fresh market tomatoes, squash and sugarcane; second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products, bell peppers, strawberries and tangerines; and accounts for 65 percent of total U.S. citrus production (source: Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services).

In October, avocados, starfruit, grapefruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn, guava, mushrooms, oranges, peanuts and tangerines are harvested and are at the height of freshness at local markets. You can find a complete list of Florida crops in season at

Why eat seasonally?

Products are fresher and tastier, and nutritional value is optimized. Plus, eating seasonally encourages a diverse diet, is often more economical, and harmonizes with nature's production cycle.

We've enjoyed exploring local farms in Bradenton such as O'Brien Family Farms, 16505 S.R. 64; Geraldson Community Farm, 1401 99th St. N.W.; Hunsader Farms, 5500 C.R. 675 (great for pumpkin picking); and King Family Farm and Market, 4630 Caruso Road. We've also been to the larger farms such as Mixon Fruit Farms, 525 27th St. E, Bradenton; and Dakin Dairy

Farms, 30771 Betts Road, Myakka City. Dakin and Mixon offer tours, and are wonderful day trips for families.

O'Brien Family Farms and Sweetgrass Farms, 8350 Carolina St, Sarasota, grow produce using the hydroponic method, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. It's a lot of fun to visit and pick your own vegetables and fruits at these farms (and you don't have to bend down to pick).

At Arts & Eats we use local produce, fish and dairy products including McCoy's raw honey and Sutter's eggs (both available at Detwiler's Farm Market in Sarasota), heirloom tomatoes, Florida little neck clams, and local pompano. We enjoy the richness of Dakin Farms cream, buttermilk and milk and use ice cream by Big Olaf Creamery, on Siesta Key. We also shop at the downtown farmers market in Bradenton and use fresh herbs from the local Easter Seals farm, which employs developmentally disabled youth.

Be sure to enjoy cheeses from local dairy farms at the farmers market. Shop local, shop seasonal, and enjoy all that Florida has to offer.

Locally sourced cheese and fruit platter

On an attractive plate or platter, arrange goat cheese log from the farmers market rolled in local chopped herbs and sprinkled with local honey, starfruit, mango cut in sections, guava cut in sections, grapefruit slices, orange slices, tangerines and any other fruits you might discover while shopping at local farms and markets. Garnish with nuts of your choosing.

Chef Jim Copening, of Arts & Eats, can be reached at The restaurant is at 1114 12th St. W., Bradenton, in the Village of the Arts. Information: 941-201-6647 or