TAMPA, Fla — Welcome to Fat Beet Farm. The fully sustainable farm and kitchen opened to the public less than a month ago after over 8 years of work. At first, the family wanted to try out a new kitchen concept.
"So we started with just wanting to have a full-blown restaurant like my family's used to," said Josie Curci, self-proclaimed lettuce expert, and employee of the farm. "And we wanted to just have a little bit of garden space just to kind of fund the kitchen."
That dream quickly changed. The farm now boasts a hydro-house, microgreens garden, multiple gardens, and so much more. And everything on the farm is run sustainably. What is now a mission, started as necessary improvements.
At first, the Curci's dug for freshwater to use on the farm, but with their proximity to the bay, they only hit saltwater. So rather than use city water, the farm started to collect rainwater. Now, there are multiple tanks that collect 35,000 gallons of rain.
Their aquaponics house, where all of the lettuce and greens are grown required constant fans. The electricity bill was regularly over $500 a month. So, the Curci's installed 90 solar panels to provide energy for the entire farm.
That is not the only way that the aquaponics house is sustainable.
"This is our aquaponic system. This is where we have 300 of our tilapia," explains Josie Curci. "We basically collect all of their waste. And then we run it through a couple of our filters, we run it, and then we mineralize it down so that we can capture all of the nitrates and then run it into our hydro house, we call it, so that we don't need any other fertilizers other than this."
The water from the fish and their waste go directly to the lettuces. The greens are grown in nutrient-rich water, not soil.
Once those greens are ready, they are picked and brought straight to the kitchen to be made into delicious meals. That's where Tim Curci and his other daughter, Kate, step in.
Tim Curci leads the charge in the kitchen.
After decades in the food industry with creations like Bonefish Grill and Noble Crust under his belt, he wanted to do something good for his family and his community.
"To have that full story from, you know, the dirt all the way up to the kitchen, you know, worked into food products would be a great business model and a great family business model," said Tim Curci.
With his experience in food, Tim Curci knew firsthand just how much waste can come with a restaurant. "We generate a lot of food waste, you know, the business, the restaurant business, unfortunately, has a lot of food waste, trying to hit shelf lives and not make anybody sick and do the right things. And most of it ends up in landfills."
But not at Fat Beet. "We grind our own food waste to make fertilizer. Fertilizer is expensive. And it's not good for the environment. It's what causes a lot of the red tide issues and such. So it was out of necessity that we did this, you know," said Tim Curci.
From farm to table, back to the farm. A closed loop.
"Slowly but surely, we're building this soil into amazing soil, very productive farm, just running it the right way and running it as a sustainable farm. You can do that," said Tim Curci.
The farm is now open for to-go food orders and weekend markets. Their goal is to expand educational trips and welcome schools and community members to the farm to learn about sustainable methods and clean farming.
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