A couple of weeks ago I found myself lounging on a beach chair next to my mom and my sister. Who am I kidding? I didn't just find myself there, it took a great deal of planning and coordination, before finally, my mom, sister and I managed to escape for a six-day "long weekend" on the west coast of south Florida. It's not a particularly "eco" destination but it's a spot we know well, where we can spend our days reading and talking under umbrellas, slathered in Dr. Hauschka and Alba sunscreens.
A few long walks took us to favorite destinations: a beach close to where we scattered my grandmother's ashes, a surf shop where we can find sandals by Simple Shoes and other cool or comfortable companies, and the lone natural foods store, Summer Day Market and CafÃ©, for fresh juices, more sunscreen, and other necessities.
But a funny thing happened this trip. While one shop owner was crying out about the lack of organic foods in Florida, right around the corner another shop owner was whisking up batches of organic chocolates and crepes, proving that there is a market for healthy and natural no matter where you are. South Florida Lacks the "Big Health Food Stores"
Saturday morning (we'll call it Saturday even though I had no idea what day it was the whole time we were there -- perfect!) we walked down to the surf shop. There we found ourselves in a conversation with the owner about the general lack of natural foods stores in south Florida. He described a recent getaway up north to visit family and a trip with his brother into one of those "big health food stores."
My guess is that it was a Whole Foods, but the way he described it was priceless: "Everything in there was like, no offense, but like for treehuggers." None taken, my friend! He said the store was cool but that people in Florida, at least south Florida, just don't buy that stuff. Or maybe they would, but it's not easy on this particular island.
Organic Ingredients are Better for Business
That's why it was so interesting to see Mark Beatty, head chef of Black Truffle, knee deep in organic chocolates just a few doors down. I've known Mark for about a year now. He watches my Discovery series (Get Fresh with Sara Snow) and, over the past 12 months, has been filling me in on the changes he has been making in his bakery. So I decided to pay him a visit.
Mark now takes it in the gut when he places orders for the 36 cases of organic cream, 120 pounds of organic butter, and $60 bags of flour (verses $16 per bag) he goes through each week. Organics can be costly, especially for a small business. But the good news makes the extra expense well worth it: Business is booming. Mark is now shipping his scones and handmade chocolates worldwide, and in a few months they'll be moving into a new location with better visibility and, hopefully, increased foot traffic.
Mark reminds me of that unforgettable line from the film "Field of Dreams:" "If you build it, they will come." He grew up first in Florida then in Scotland and, after attending culinary school, he took his first job with a bakery in France.
On his first day on the job, he showed up in his fresh, crisp chef's coat and found himself heading six floors underground to the bakery, where they worked their magic in temperatures beyond our imagination. There he saw the sharp contrast between the head baker's sweaty white tank top and his own crisp white chef's coat -- and nearly turned on his heel and walked out.
Lucky for chocolate lovers, he stayed, and learned a valuable set of lessons from that man -- about working with your hands, taking your time with food, and always using the highest quality ingredients. It's a tradition Mark continues. Some might call it gastronomy or slow food.
Even in this little strip mall spot near the southern end of Florida, people are finding it in their palate to appreciate Mark's propensity for organic ingredients prepared according to age old traditions.
I for one am glad to see the organic traditions spreading all over (and am starting to think that Mark and the surf shop should work a trade -- a pair of hemp shoes for a box of hand-crafted chocolates).
The west coast of south Florida is not such an unlikely spot to find an organic chocolatier, but it was funny to witness the one conversation one day and on the next, find the answer, or at least a tasty portion of the answer, right around the corner. It just goes to show that you shouldn't stop looking or asking.
If natural and organic is what you're searching for, you'll probably find it. ::Black Truffle
More on Slow Food
::Slow Food: Small, Simple, Sustainable
::Tried and Tasted: Slow Food NYC's Snail of Approval
::Is Slow Food Movement a Contradiction in Terms?
More on Organic Chocolate
::The Bitter Truth About Chocolate
::A Sweeter Truth: Making Organic Fair Trade Chocolate in Ecuador
::Tony's Chocolonely Chocolate wins Conscience Award
Sara Snow is Planet Green's lifestyle expert, and a regular contributor to TreeHugger via her Green Eyes On columns. She can also be seen on CNN.com on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Credits from top: Courtesy of Rubberball/Getty Images; courtesy of Sara Snow; courtesy of Image Source/Getty Images; courtesy of Sara Snow.