You probably recognize the farm's name, but not the farmer. Lake Meadow Naturals is a name found on restaurant menus from posh hotels to small cafes.
Ocoee farmer Dale Volkert's chicken and duck eggs are renowned for their rich yolks. Lake Meadow Naturals also raises hormone- and antibiotic-free broiler chickens, poussins (young chickens), Cornish game hens and stewing hens.
Volkert, an early supporter of Slow Food Orlando, grew up on the family dairy farm in Wisconsin and his father bought him his first flock of chickens for a 4-H project in 1960.
In 1980 Dale moved to South Florida and then to Central Florida in 2000. Seeking land close to Orlando to raise cage-free chickens, he found an idyllic spot on Lake Meadow in west Orange County. The day the property closed, chickens were delivered in honor of his father, 44 years to the date of his first flock from the same hatchery.
At first Volkert gave the eggs to friends and sold them via LocalHarvest.org, a website dedicated to bringing small farms and consumers together.
Local chef Kathleen Blake — then at Primo at the J.W. Marriott, now at The Rusty Spoon — discovered the farm and soon Lake Meadow eggs were on the menu at the mega resort. Business began to grow as other chefs discovered the farm.
Realizing how disconnected consumers had become about how and where food is produced, Volkert opened up the farm to visitors one day a week. Today the farm store is open Monday and Thursday-Saturday. And Lake Meadow products are in retail stores throughout the state as well as on the menus of top-notch farm-to-table restaurants.
For Volkert, the farm is more than a vocation. Lake Meadow Naturals is testament of the power and possibilities of sustainable agriculture.