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Welcome Oakland Park's Culinary-Arts District

David Samayoa

When you think "culinary district," does Oakland Park come to mind? Do you think about Oakland Park at all? Maybe you should, as the community seems to be on its way to developing a downtown area based on food culture.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Slow Food Glades to Coast will host a free open house of the new Oakland Park Culinary Arts District. It starts at 6 p.m. at the Oakland Park Farmers Market (1101 NE 40th Ct.) with a talk about plans for the district. At 7 p.m., FunkyBuddha Brewery (1201 NE 38th St.) will host a $5 tour of the new brew house. Food trucks and vendors will sell dinner and snacks on the street out front.

So far, the district includes the Funky Buddha, which boasts an enormous tap room. It also includes The Urban Farmer Patio Market, which sells vegetables from farms like Erickson Farms in Palm Beach, eggs from Out of the Ashes Farm in Liberty City and gardening equipment for urban and balcony farms -- like seeds especially selected to thrive in the tropics and a vertical gardening tower made of stacked Styrofoam boxes. The Urban Farm also hosts the Tuesday-evening farmers market.

Credit David Samayoa
Currently, the Urban Market in Oakland Park sells locally grown produce wheatgrass, avocados and greens, as well as organic produce from other states.

Future plans include a farm park at Jaco Pastorius Park, where residents will learn about gardening, tend their own plots in a community garden, and where The Urban Farmer will grow its own vegetables. Urban Farmer president Stephen Hill says the gardens will be vertical and hydroponic.

"One reason we tend to focus on hydroponics for urban farming is it avoids the soil and it's also water efficient," he says. For urban farms located in old industrial areas, contaminated soil can be an issue, so avoiding the soil in the ground can be desirable.

Credit David Samayoa
The Urban Farmer sells a Styrofoam tower for vertical gardening

Hill says there will be some trial and error: "We can't grow everything but we can grow a lot. There's no book written on how to do this -- not in this climate or in this place -- so we've been experimenting with things like chard and zipper green beans."

There are also plans for the large building that holds Funky Buddha Brewery to also house a central market. Sharon McCormick is marketing director for RMA, the Pompano Beach consulting firm hired by Oakland Park to spearhead the redevelopment. She likens visions for the market to "maybe a much smaller scale Pike Place Market, where vendors who are currently at the farmers market would sell six or seven days a week."

McCormick says Stork's Bakery also plans to open a third location in the Funky Buddha Brewery building. McCormick says the hope is more restaurants and food stores will also open  in the area.

To the south, there is a 50,000-square-foot building that Broward College plans to turn into a Food, Arts and Business (FAB) Center.

The Oakland Park Culinary District launched around a year and a half ago, when the city's Community Redevelopment Association hired RMA to help revitalize the downtown core.

Why make it a culinary revitalization? McCormick says that after an "enormous amount of research," which involved going through demographic information, hosting public meetings and analyzing what was already in the area, a culinary district made sense.

"In Oakland Park," she says, "there is already a cluster of businesses that are related to the kitchen. There's a knife company and there are several kitchen and bath companies. That, combined with the fact that there was a building that was 50,000-feet large that was incredibly conducive to a school and also a larger building to the north that could be a central market. You don't often find empty buildings that large in downtown areas. We floated the idea of the culinary-arts district and everyone loved it." 

This is a guest post from WLRN contributor Trina Sargalski's food and drink blog, Miami Dish. You can also follow her at @MiamiDish on Twitter.

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