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Why Locally Grown Can Be Better Than The USDA Organic Designation

We are often asked if Sealantro Catering uses only organic produce in our meals, to which we respond that we use organic or local produce than has been grown to a higher standard than the USDA Organic designation. That’s the short answer! It’s an important topic and merits far more explanation, so here goes.

The USDA “certified organic” classification is an expensive and unsurprisingly bureaucratic process. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.

Costs are high enough for small volume farmers. Irrigation, fertilizer and seeds are way more expensive than conventional.  (An ounce of organic, non-GMO cauliflower seeds can cost as much as $275).  Hence, many local farmers prefer to farm to their own standards that are higher than the USDA requirements, forgoing the government labeling.  This is truly a labor of love.  The work is manual and irrigation brings its own set of challenges but these farmers remain committed and maintain control of how their produce is grown.

Jan Pence, director of Florida Fields to Forks in Malabar, one of Sealantro’s purveyors, says “We go beyond what the government regulations require to certify a farm as organic.  Being certified organic is no guarantee that your food is pure and that you are not getting GMO foods, and that toxic pesticides and fertilizers are not being used.”

Florida Veggies and More is another of Sealantro’s preferred suppliers. The manager, Heather, agrees that there is a ridiculous amount of paperwork that accompanies the expense of USDA Organic certification. She adds, “Your hand selected local farmers have higher than organic standards. They are farmers, not accountants.

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Happy Cows

When it comes to meat, we buy Florida raised. Steve Nettere of Okeechobee Farms is another character in the band of passionate, committed locals with whom Sealantro works. Okeechobee Farm’s Angus beef cattle feed on 100 percent living Florida grasses and legumes. Nettere claims that makes his operation the only authentic 100% grass-fed beef provider in the country since “virtually every other grass fed beef producer in the USA uses hay and silage.”  Most facilities cannot guarantee grass-fed year round. Because of the effects of winter on crops, grasses have to be dried. Nettere explains that Florida is different because the state is not impeded by inclement weather; hence the superior quality of local meat in the Sunshine State.

Pence’s meats (lamb, chicken, beef and pork) are all USDA inspected, approved for humane farming methods and certified by the American Grass Fed Association.

As strict as our local purveyors are about not feeding their cattle and poultry antibiotics and hormones, they are equally disciplined about the quality of grass on which their animals are pastured.  This means no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides; sensible pasture rotation, pure rain water and diluted seawater for minerals. Stock roam free and are killed humanely in a less stressful environment.

Many factory farmed cattle and poultry are trucked for days before being slaughtered, creating angst and stress for the animals. These emotions are present at a cellular level, just like they are for humans. Think about how your muscles tense when you’re afraid or stressed out because your sympathetic nervous system is telling you to be on guard.  This affects the quality of the meat; pardon the comparison but this is just as if you were being eaten by a lion at your time of stress.

At Sealantro, we say “you are what you eat eats” so choosing animals that have had the best diet possible and that have been kept in the most humane conditions is the healthiest way to go.

baby-broccoliAnother huge consideration for Sealantro is that many organic fruits and vegetables are flown or trucked in from other states or countries.  If you have environmental concerns, supporting local farmers and offsetting the impact of transportation will ease your conscience.  Fewer carbon dioxide emissions in transportation mean lower rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as decreased school absence days for children.

Per food-hub.org, the average American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the US. This makes sense if you’re eating pasta from Italy or kimchi from Korea but if you’re eating oranges from California when you live in Florida, it’s a little nuts.

By using local purveyors, we at Sealantro serve fresh, seasonal produce to impact the local economy and to support our agricultural communities.  We know the people that grow our food and we are honored to share the fruits of their labor with you.  In fact, we will be listing the purveyors of all the ingredients on our menus so you can get to know these wonderful folks too.

Welcome to Sealantro – Our Story

The Sealantro Story: Jayne McAllister tells how it all started.

I had been running a successful weight loss program for several years, priding myself on getting clients into the kitchen and blowing the dust off their wooden spoons. Nevertheless, I was continually approached by participants who said that they loved the food and the recipes I was recommending but they didn’t have time for shopping and prep.

It occurred to me to offer meals as an optional part of the program. I was astonished at the response. Two thirds of the participants jumped right in. My only issue was how I was going to make this happen.  I knew my dishes inside out but with a full time coaching business and traveling for speaking engagements, I was in a similar predicament to my clients who didn’t have time to cook!

Michael was right there under my nose but I didn’t think of him. We had just started dating and he had a busy job, plus he’s from the South and I knew he had a penchant for biscuits and gravy. One day I made a pot of mustard greens with coconut and sweet potato.  A few hours later, I couldn’t find them. He’d wolfed the lot and said they were the best greens ever. I discovered that he likes spicy food and big flavors as much as I do.

Michael’s first healthy dish to prepare was quinoa tabbouleh, even though he had never used quinoa or had tabbouleh before. It didn’t matter. He has an amazing palate so it came out perfect and the clients loved it. That was it, he was hired – in more ways than one! Food definitely brought us closer together. We ended up sharing a home and a love of experimenting with regional cuisines. Our pantry looks like a cross between an Indian bazaar and an Italian market, with several other international stops in between.

Sealantro grew by word of mouth. We started to personal chef for clients with long term weight loss goals. I make sure the menus are healthy and Michael executes, bringing his flair and expertise to each dish. Our clients were happy with the healthy, delicious food and their weight loss results. In fact, in the group program, the clients who had us prepare food for them lost the most weight. And there’s no starvation, deprivation or counting of carbs, calories or fat units in any program I offer.

Before long, we were asked to do small events, including an afternoon tea. It made so much sense since I’m British. We added afternoon teas to Sealantro’s menu of services. They are a hit for showers and other small gatherings. There had to be a healthy option too, so in addition to a traditional afternoon tea menu, we created vegetarian offerings and our Tea-Tox which is vegan and gluten free.

Meanwhile I was approached to give healthy cooking demonstrations. I can talk about healthy eating all day long but I have the worst knife skills on the planet – as evidenced by my collection of Bandaids- so it made sense that Michael and I would team up for these events.  We created a series of eight classes that can be given in interactive or demonstration formats. We make them fun and everyone’s allowed to have wine – unless it’s breakfast.

We’re excited to watch Sealantro grow.  We know that many people in this community want to eat healthily but they have busy lives and don’t always have time to “shop, chop and cook.” We’re looking forward to helping them out.

If you are interested in hiring Sealantro to help you eat healthier, please write to us at sealantro_catering@yahoo.com or call 772-713-7730.