Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 24th 2014

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Garden Delights: Q & A with Coldwater Gardens

By Sarah McCartan

Inspired by “Agritourism” retreats they visited while traveling around the world, Michael and Natalia Ritter arrived at the idea of developing their own retreat—Coldwater Gardens. The search for the right spot began in 2005 and in 2007 they found what is their current location in Milton, Fla. In addition to working to develop their retreat and growing a plethora of produce and herbs, you can find the Coldwater Gardens crew at the Palafox Market most weekends.

Coldwater Gardens also supplies fresh ingredients to area restaurants. They deliver weekly produce to Global Grill and regularly work with Pensacola Country Club, Jackson’s, Carmen’s Lunch Bar and Nancy’s Haute Affairs. Depending on seasons and needs, they also occasionally work with End of the Line Cafe and The Leisure Club.

IN: How long has Coldwater Gardens been in operation?
CG: Our Gardens began very small in 2008 when we started infrastructure and building good soil. In the past three years the garden has started to take off and we’ve started selling produce to restaurants. We’ve been working on this project in some capacity since roughly 2007, but things are now starting to come to a point where we can soon have guests stay on the farm.

IN: What’s growing in your gardens?
CG: In general, because our main focus is sustainability, we grow with the seasons. Salad greens and root crops in the fall, winter and spring. Beans, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers and of course our delicious heirloom tomatoes in the summer. We grow culinary and medicinal herbs all year. We sell honey in the summer, and shiitake mushrooms for as much of the year as possible, with fall and spring being our best seasons for these.

IN: Is everything grown organically?
CG: We are Certified Naturally Grown, which is basically the same as Certified Organic. We pride ourselves in the fact that what we do here is more sustainable and better for the environment than either certification. We make all of our soil onsite with a well-developed composting system. We never add in purchased chemical fertilizers because although they may meet the organic standards they are often harvested from unsustainable sources. We only use Certified Organic pesticides when absolutely necessary such as BT [Bacillus thuringiensis], and only in small amounts on targeted pests. In our opinion, this farm is really as organic as it gets, and getting better every day. We are also proud of our recycling of organic material from restaurants that feeds our worms and adds fantastic compounds to our compost. By reusing organic material from the restaurants we are saving thousands of pounds of natural composting material from making its way to the landfill. We welcome the public to visit our farm and meet their farmer to see how the food is grown.

IN: How did you foster relationships with area restaurants?
CG: The first chef to come on board was Frank Taylor of Global Grill. Our relationship with Global for the past three years has been an incredible experience and has guided us in the way we prefer to work with restaurants. We work directly with the chefs and grow seasonal produce for the dishes they plan. This approach allows the chefs to get the very best fresh local produce and the quality really comes through in their dishes. This approach takes planning from both the chef and the farm but we’ve become used to planning and staying ahead three months of the planting curve. Quality control is a high priority to us and we make sure we deliver only the best produce. All produce is picked and delivered within one day directly to the client.

IN: Is the long-term goal for Coldwater Gardens to become a garden, adventure land of sorts?
CG: We have a large property that we are trying to bring back to native habitat and this is a long-term vision that we are hoping will be enjoyed and supported by visitors. We have many great ideas and hope to reach the critical mass when we open our doors that will allow us to invest more into the project. We’ll promote sustainable living and natural outdoor activities at Coldwater Gardens. As far as activities, the sky is the limit for anything that can be done outdoors. We have not finalized our initial activities list as of yet but we do plan to work with local artisans in all crafts to host workshops and activities onsite.

Although the tourism side of Coldwater Gardens remains in development, they currently welcome the public for garden tours. To schedule a tour or learn more, email info@coldwatergardens.com or visit coldwatergardens.com.