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Hydroponic Farmers Serve Up Truly Local Eats

At Urban Oasis, farmers teach and sell benefits of eating locally.

On a recent Friday at Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm Chef John Carminati led an interactive cooking seminar. Carminati's culinary career has led him around the world to destinations including Malaysia, Holland and Charleston, S.C.

Carminati shows the crowd of onlookers how to make a fresh tomato salad and a side dish of mustard greens, sauteed with cabbage and bacon. Every ingredient featured was picked right from the hydroponic systems just yards away from the barn.

It's a scene plucked right out of a gourmet cooking show. But Urban Oasis owner Cathy Hume modestly insists: "We're really a mom-and-pop business."

Hume is refering to the business she and her husband Dave have spent the past four years building. Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm is located at 5416 West Linebaugh Avenue and features local, chemical-free produce -- in other words, the freshest and best that the season has to offer.

Eating and selling locally are mantras for the couple.

"Personally why eating local important to me is first, to support locally-owned small businesses," Cathy Hume said. "Secondly, buying local allows you to have access to the best, freshest, most nurtitious produce available."

Urban Oasis sets itself a part in that no soil is used to grow its produce. The hydroponic farming technique uses alternate growing mediums  that can be re-used and recycled. The Humes grow nearly 20,000 vegetable plants in more than 40 rows of vertical, hydroponic growing towers, each with four planters stacked on top of each other.  Balanced nutrition levels are dissolved into water so that each plant gets the desired amount of food directly into its roots. No fertilizer pollution is released into the environment, and much less space is needed for the harvest.

Both organic and hydroponic growing methods use no toxic pesticides, insecticides or herbicides, and both have little or no environmental impact.   

The crops change three times per year based on the season. The current winter crops includes lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, turnips, celery, arugula, scallions and collard greens. In addition to vegetable crops, Urban Oasis offers fresh herbs like basil, mint and parsley.

In addition to what's grown on the farm, the market offers local, farm-fresh eggs, honey and grass-fed beef. The farm services fresh produce to a number of Tampa "farm-to"table" restaurants, such as The Refinery in Seminole Heights, and Cafe Dufrain on Harbour Island.

"Many restaurants in our area have gone the farm-to-table route and I hope that more in our area will "catch the fever" and start doing the same," Cathy Hume said.

In addition to supplying some of the best restaurants in Tampa Bay, the Humes host a farmer's market each Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm.

For more access, Urban Oasis offers a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, or a seasonal Farm Share Membership. Members pay a fee and recieve an allotment of produce for eight weeks.

The farm will also begin offering more chef-led classes like the one on Friday. Find details and updates on their website: http://urbanoasisfarm.com.

"The reason I'm teaching these classes is I want to educate people about the beautiful local produce that is available to them," said Chef Carminati, who blogs at http://www.chefonthefarm.com.  "Most people would say, 'Now how in the world would I ever cook bok choi?' and I'm here to show them how."

Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm is located at 5416 W. Linebaugh Ave. Tampa, Fl 33624. Learn more at www.urbanoasis.com or contact them at (813) 293-FARM.

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