Although considered an urban farm, North Fort Myers' Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm was closer in many respects to what people consider an old-fashioned operation.
The neighborhood leading to the farm was spread out and separated by rolling bushes, fencing built in squares and rectangles, and meandering dirt roads with ditches. One man struggled to pull a calf through an open gate using an old rope and down the street a cowboy boutique sold new hats and boots. Rosy Tomorrows was surrounded by long, freshly-painted white fencing.
Owner Rose O'Dell King met the agrotourists under a screened pavilion for lunch and explained that raising heritage breeds has fallen out of favor due to the mass production of animals.
One of the Red Wattles at Rosy Tomorrows. MCKENZIE CASSIDY.
Heritage breeds are those animals carefully selected, free-ranged, and bred to retain the best attributes. They are far more well-rounded, better able to resist disease, and survive in specific local environments, according to The Livestock Conservancy. Their factory counterparts, on the other hand, are typically chosen only for intensive production -- rapid growth, feed efficiency, continuous milking or egg production.
"It's important for us to concentrate on heritage breeds because there will be genetic things that are lost to us," said O'Dell King.
One of the by-products of mass livestock production is that farmers are focusing on what can be sold rather than investing time in protecting the stock, and as a result, many of the heritage breeds are now considered "endangered."
Rosy Tomorrows offers 88-acres for its heritage breeds, including Laced Wynadottes and Dominiques, both chickens, and the non-heritage breed Brangus cattle, a mix between an Angus and Brahman. The cattle at Rosy Tomorrows isn't heritage, explained O'Dell King, because they require more space to roam in the wild.
In order to protect the chickens from North Fort Myers' predators -- black bears, panthers, or coyotes -- the farm uses a rolling trailer as shelter for them at night. They spend the day free-ranging and climb into the trailer to sleep until they are released the next morning.
The farm also raises a breed of hog called the Red Wattle, named for a fleshy wattle hanging off of each side of its neck. Known for their mild temperament, hardiness, foraging abilities, and rapid growth rate, the Wattles at Rosy Tomorrows spend their day searching the grounds for extra food.
Most customers are drawn to how the farm demonstrates respect for the animals and focuses on the sale of a whole or side of meat to avoid waste. Groups of friends often purchase a whole animal together and split up the meat to make it more economical, but the main advantage of buying at Rosy Tomorrows is the confidence that all livestock were raised naturally.
"I'm making the meat I want to eat," said O'Dell King. "All the meat we are selling, they've only had mother's milk and grass."
Farming isn't the only activity to keep O'Dell King, a trained wine sommelier and columnist, and her husband Gary, busy. Earlier this year the couple hosted an event for the 2014 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which raised $2.5 million to benefit the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida, Edison State College's pediatric nursing program, and the music therapy program at Florida Gulf Coast University. They hosted a private dinner at the farm.
For more information about Rosy Tomorrows, visit rosytomorrowsheritagefarm.com or find them on Facebook.
-This article is the third in a four-part series about farms visited during the 2014 Lee County Urban Farm Tour. Next week's topic will be Palm Creek Produce in North Fort Myers, which partnered with Edible Garden to get their product out into the community.