When is a Muscadine a Scuppernong?

When is a Muscadine a Scuppernong?

When we moved to the Florida Panhandle in 1989 and bought a house in Wakulla County, my wife and I inherited a grape arbor that was planted by the original builder of the home many years previous. It consisted of three 4×4 posts with cross pieces at the top and a run of heavy gauge wire out near the ends of each cross piece. Maintenance had been lacking for some years so the vines had grown into a massive tangle which at first glance, I surmised I would end up cutting down to help improve the appearance of the property. Well, as is often the case, timing is everything and the existence to this day of that grape arbor, is due to the fact that it was late summer and the vines had some fruit on them. It only took one taste of a sweet, flavorful black muscadine grape to decide they were worth keeping. Little did I know what I was in for though, when it came to properly managing this “wildling” for a productive, beautiful arbor; one that now provides many culinary options, as well as a pleasing, eye-catching aspect in our home landscape.

After looking closer at the vines, it appeared that there were two different species of grapes growing. The very dark purple (almost black) muscadines, were dwarfed by much larger greenish-bronze grapes at one end of the arbor. I now know that these grapes are typically referred to as scuppernongs by most locals and they are actually the same species as the dark grapes. In fact, Vitus rotundifolia is the scientific name for our native wild grapes that have a range from Florida to New Jersey in the east, and west to Texas and Oklahoma. The fruits of this species can be bronze, black or red, depending on the cultivar and they are the same species I remembered picking from wild vines as a youth, which ranged in size from ¼ to ½ inch and were often quite tart. Currently, there are about 150 cultivars of muscadine grapes grown for their fruit and their innate resistance to pests and diseases.

The reason for the two varieties on our grape arbor had to do with the fact that many muscadines produce only pistillate flowers and require pollen from another variety to produce fruit. A few varieties have perfect flowers and can produce fruit on their own, notably Carlos and Noble. Writings about these native grapes date back to the early 1500’s as early explorers of the Cape Fear River Valley in modern-day North Carolina described its abundance and pleasing qualities. The common name “scuppernong” is derived from the Scuppernong River in North Carolina but the name has many variations depending on the locale (scuplin, scufalum, scupanon, scupadine, scuppernine, scupnun, and scufadine). The word “scuppernong” comes from the Algonquian “askuponong,” meaning “place of the askupo,” which is the sweet bay tree (Magnolia virginiana). Cultivation has been recorded as early as the 17th century and with over 100 years of breeding, several bronze cultivars such as Carlos, Doreen, Magnolia and Triumph, are distinguished by having perfect flowers. There is one particular vine on Roanoke Island North Carolina that is considered by many to be the “Mother Vine” for all modern day varieties. This vine has been cultivated for around 400 years, to-date.

muscadine grapes

Dark purple muscadine grapes are often called “black grapes.”

If by this time, you are working up a craving for a taste of muscadines, you are not alone because late-summer is the peak production period for many vines around the region. If you do not have your own vines, you are still able to get these grapes at several places around our area. Visit this link for a list of wineries and vineyards in Florida, some of which run u-pick operations. Or you may even have a nearby neighbor with an abundance of fruit and generosity. Some cultivated varieties are suitable for table fare as they have fewer seeds and thinner skins. The tougher-skinned varieties are suitable for jellies, jams, grape butter, and wine making. Bronze scuppernongs produce a very light-colored wine with a mild fruity flavor, while the dark purple muscadines derive a dark reddish, and stronger flavored wine. No matter the type of muscadine, they all provide important habitat and food for many wild critters as well. Thankfully, they generally produce enough bounty to go around and I never begrudge the opossums, raccoons, squirrels and birds their share of the blessing.

Florida Master Naturalist Program

Florida Master Naturalist Program

The Florida Master Naturalist Program is an adult education University of Florida/IFAS Extension program. Training will benefit persons interested in learning more about Florida’s environment or wishing to increase their knowledge for use in education programs as volunteers, employees, ecotourism guides, and others.

Through classroom, field trip, and practical experience, each module provides instruction on the general ecology, habitats, vegetation types, wildlife, and conservation issues of Coastal, Freshwater and Upland systems.  Additional special topics focus on Conservation Science, Environmental Interpretation, Habitat Evaluation, Wildlife Monitoring and Coastal Restoration.  For more information  go to:  http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/  Okaloosa and Walton Counties will be offering Upland Systems on Thursdays from February 15- March 22.  Topics discussed include Hardwood Forests, Pinelands, Scrub, Dry Prairie, Rangelands and Urban Green Spaces. The program also addresses society’s role in uplands, develops naturalist interpretation skills, and discusses environmental ethics.  Check the website for a Course Offering near you :http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/fmnp/

 

Agritourism in North Florida- an Emerging Industry

Agritourism in North Florida- an Emerging Industry

The Ocheesee Creamery in Calhoun County Florida participates in the annual regional Farm Tour highlighting a number of agritourism opportunities in North Florida.  Photo Credit: Ocheesee Creamery

It seems each weekend this time of year is packed with things to do outside; and for good reason!  The weather is perfect and the holidays are approaching.  Among the many festivals and festivities are a number of farm tours, or “agritourism” related events.  For example, there was the recent Tallahassee and surrounding area “10th Annual Farm Tour: “Farms, Gardens and Ranches,” and Jackson County just hosted the annual “Antique Tractor Drive” as part of its Farm City Festival.

The Merriam Webster definition of “Agritourism” is “the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities.”  More specifically, pursuant to Florida Statute 570.961  the definition of agritourism in Florida is “any agricultural related activity consistent with a bona fide farm or ranch or in a working forest which allows members of the general public to view or enjoy activities related to farming, ranching, historical, cultural or harvest-your-own attractions for recreational, entertainment or educational purposes.”

North Florida is home to a rich agricultural industry. Photo Credit Judy Biss

Panhandle Florida is an agriculturally diverse region growing everything from row crops like cotton, corn, soybeans, and peanuts to hay, timber, beef cattle, dairy cattle, fruit, vegetables, and even shellfish along the coast.  Many farms are beginning to offer agritourism related opportunities as a means to increase income, but also to increase awareness of the importance of agriculture, in its many diverse ways, to our lives.

Many farms and ranches also have large tracts of land that are left uncultivated and serve as natural areas for surrounding fish and wildlife.  Because of this, many farms are not only prime candidates for agritourism, but “ecotourism” as well.  In addition to our numerous national forests and state parks many private landowners also have the potential to market their natural areas through ecotourism.  This, also, is a relatively new industry in Florida, and more can be read about it here: Ecotourism

“Growing agritourism in Florida is a terrific way of marrying two of our oldest industries: tourism and agriculture,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “The growth and success of agritourism in Florida is not only good for our economy, it also celebrates the people, families and businesses that make up Florida agriculture.”  (Jul 27, 2016, Commissioner Adam Putnam and VISIT FLORIDA Promote Florida Agritourism, Press release)

For more information on this topic, please see the following UF/IFAS Publications and related websites. 

 

 

Ecotourism in Northwest Florida

Ecotourism in Northwest Florida

Wakulla Springs is home to some of the best wildlife watching in all of northwest Florida. It’s not unusual to see manatees, alligators, and dozens of species of birds in one boat trip. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

What do you imagine when the word “ecotourism” comes to mind? I know  I usually daydream about a trip my husband I took to Costa Rica several years ago, surrounded by lush tropical rainforests as we ziplined through the canopy. I might also think about visiting a National Park, following a neatly maintained trail and stopping at signs placed at just the right spot so visitors can read and understand the special features of the place. Ecotourism, done right, brings a visitor to a unique place, tells its story, and immerses the visitor in the sights and sounds in a way that treads lightly on the location. I always know I’ve been on a good ecotour when I’m tired, happy, and have learned or seen something new.

A colleague with The Conservation Fund has stated that sustainable tourism includes: “Authentic experiences that are unique and specialized to the place (its culture, heritage, and natural resources), emphasizes quality over quantity, focuses on distinctive destinations, unspoiled landscapes, and historic buildings, and differs from mass-market tourism by favoring locally-owned businesses, thereby increasing circulation of money in the local economy.” The truly wonderful thing about ecotourism is that local touch; it exists solely because of the place, so it cannot be outsourced. The best storytellers about those places are usually the people who have lived there for many years, so by its very nature, ecotourism provides jobs for local residents.

Northwest Florida has hundreds of unique locations for visitors and locals to explore…we have centuries-old forts, clear-blue springs, endless rivers and creeks to paddle, trails on the coast and up our modest hills. We have caves and underground caverns, waterfalls, pitcher plant prairies, fishing, wildlife watching, and reefs for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. While millions come here for our quartz-sand beaches, other options that highlight our natural ecosystems deserve more attention and notoriety.

A few years ago, several Extension Agents received funding for a project called Naturally EscaRosa. The idea behind that project was to help promote and create businesses that sustainably used our agricultural and natural resources. The website (www.naturallyescarosa.com) has a list of over 100 businesses and locations where locals and out-of-town visitors can explore the less well-traveled areas of Escambia and Santa Rosa County. As you move east down the coast, Walton Outdoors, the local Visit Florida affiliates, and other privately managed media groups have done similar work, providing a showcase for these treasures in our midst.

This summer, try one of the local ecotourism or agritourism venues near you! Moreover, when your friends and family visit from out of town, encourage them to do the same. We cannot have a successful economy without a healthy ecosystem, and supporting these local and regional businesses is good for both.  

For more information on sustainable ecotourism, visit the Society for Ethical Ecotourism (SEE), and for information on starting or visiting an agritourism business, try Visit Florida Farms. And as always, reach out to your local County Extension agents, and we will be more than happy to point you in the right direction to discover to places to explore with your family.

 

 

2016 Gulf Coast Agritourism and Ecotourism Business Development Conference

2016 Gulf Coast Agritourism and Ecotourism Business Development Conference

In 2014, five Extension agents involved with www.naturallyescarosa.com launched the first Gulf Coast Agritourism & Ecotourism Business Development Conference. Over sixty business owners and members of the hospitality industry met to discuss marketing, sustainable tourism, and how to handle insurance and liability in an industry that involves outdoor exploration.

conference jpegBack by popular demand, we have organized a second one to be held February 18-19 at the Gulf Power Building in Pensacola.

We have a dynamic group of speakers from all over the southeast to discuss the economic opportunities available in this line of work.

Due to partial grant funding, registration (includes meals and materials) is only $25!!! Anyone involved in the agriculture (U-pick operations, fresh produce markets, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, etc.), nature (paddling, camping, fishing, etc.) tourism or hospitality industry is encouraged to come.

Click Here and Buy Tickets today!

For more information on the 2016 Gulf Coast Agritourism & Ecotourism Business Development Conference, contact Chris Verlinde (850) 623-3868 or Carrie Stevenson (850) 475-5230

Endless October Options in Northwest Florida!

Endless October Options in Northwest Florida!

Corn and sorghum mazes are great family fun in October. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

Corn and sorghum mazes are great family fun in October. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

October is a glorious time of year in northwest Florida. Temperatures are cooler, skies seem bluer, and the summer crowds have left the still-warm waters of the Gulf mostly to us locals. It is also the perfect time to explore the many local, state, and national parks nearby, or visit farms that share their harvest with the community. Santa Rosa County’s “Beaches to Woodlands” tour, now in its 12th year, is a perfect example of the many events and opportunities available to residents in our area. A schedule of 40 places and events over the next month can be found at the Beaches to Woodlands website.

As the summer heat fades, the weather is great for hiking! Photo credit: Abbie Seales

As the summer heat fades, the weather is great for hiking! Photo credit: Abbie Seales

Escambia County will also host its annual Farm Tour this month, which highlights local growers of peanuts, cotton, and forestry. There are still spots available for this day-long tour of north Escambia County available online.

The newly released Naturally EscaRosa smartphone app, available free for iPhones (App Store) or Android (Google Play) lists 101 locations that provide outdoor adventure for every age and interest. From corn mazes and pumpkin patches to monarch migration and water sports, many local businesses provide services and products that are perfect for celebrating autumn in Florida.

Take the time this month to get outside, visit a farm, eat some locally produced food and explore the trails and wildlife in the area. You won’t regret it!