Taking Root in Tallahassee: The Miccosukee Root Cellar
When you walk into the Miccosukee Root Cellar you’re met with the aroma of homemade bread straight from the oven. A towheaded sprite, Lina, is clambering atop the piano while her mother, owner Sarah Keith Valentine, kneads the last of that night’s bread. Valentine’s husband and co-owner, Ruben Fields, is holding a tasting for the staff – smoky heirloom tomato gazpacho, blackened gulf shrimp, tasso-seafood gravy. The aromas mix with the farm-fresh produce and herbs, tomatoes so ripe you can smell the pungent sweet fragrance from across the room.
Fields and Valentine have roots planted firmly in the Tallahassee area and the Miccosukee Root Cellar, a farm-to-table restaurant that serves fresh, naturally grown organic food is the culmination of lives spent crafting a life worth living.
An FSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s in the same field from FAMU, Valentine has a passion for the environment. Couple that with Fields’ head for business and restaurant experience and you have a powerful combination. They met in 2005 while Valentine worked for Fields’ parents at their farm, and got married in 2011. A visit to a restaurant in Georgia that serves farm-raised food sparked the idea
to open a restaurant of their own. “It was exactly what we wanted,” Valentine said. After they were married, the couple took a leap of faith and decided to open what is now the Miccosukee Root Cellar.
Part of their job is to communicate with local farms including Full Earth Farm, Longview Farms, Orchard Pond Organics, Sweet Grass Dairy and many others including Turkey Hill Farm, which is run by Fields’ parents. Crops are available to buyers at different times throughout the year depending on the growing season, and as a result, customers have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. “We buy a lot from others farms in the area. Through the support of restaurants like ours, small farms are able to earn a living wage,” says Valentine. “The farm-to-table movement is helping people get back in touch with the seasons and regional climate by showcasing the freshest produce (on this writing that would be tomatoes, pole beans and zucchini) and highlighting foods that are only found in this area (like Tupelo honey, Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses and cane syrup). This type of eating connects people to place. It also makes a difference by supporting local businesses and small farms.
Helping to support sustainable agriculture and encouraging the community to buy local is something that Valentine and Fields hold dear to their hearts. “At a basic level, we need to make sure to keep our money circulating and have food security,” Valentine says. If you choose to buy local food you’ll find that the taste is richer, the food is healthier, it protects the environment and economically it keeps taxes down. More importantly, there is a sense of community when locals can establish relationships with farmers who not only know how to handle produce with care, but can share their knowledge of farming as well. The popularity of events like the annual Tomato Festival, which was recently hosted by Turkey Hill Farms, shows how celebrating local and seasonal food is important to the people in the area.
Many businesses in Tallahassee are catching on to buying local. “People are getting more interested in local food,” Valentine says. “There are always new restaurants serving local food. The more we promote that, the better we will be.”
Along with being parents and proactive members of the Local Food Alliance, Valentine works as a full-time baker at the restaurant while Fields takes on the role as head chef. The duo works side-by-side with their employees, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. In a few years they wish to oversee the restaurant while spending more time tending to Fields’ parents’ farm, in the hopes of one day having a farm of their own