Ask The Locals: Rick Martinez

click to enlarge Ask The Locals: Rick Martinez - nick cardello
nick cardello
Ask The Locals: Rick Martinez

As a third generation Tampanian, Sweetwater Organic Community Farm founder Rick Martinez is a water guy. He grew up along the river, and he’s always had a fondness for the region’s waterfront, from Bayshore Boulevard to Weedon Island. Martinez — who now has a lake right outside his pad in Odessa — graduated with an engineering degree from USF, but left the field when he shifted an interest in gardening to farming. A sprout business came first — he produced millions of pounds of the stuff — and later he started a private farm on the six-acre property where Sweetwater now rests and began exploring the field of organic certification. To keep the farm running as he phased into that part of his life, he founded Sweetwater as a nonprofit community-supported farm in ’93. Today, the farm continues to focus on its education and elementary school field trip programs. “That’s the whole reason we exist,” Martinez says. “It’s a very fun time for [the kids], but also a very important experience for them to really kind of reconnect with where their food comes from.” Sweetwater’s Sunday market will reopen with a fresh farming season in mid-October, and with it, a new nature trail will also make its debut. Along the trail, folks will find yellow anise, oak trees, horse tail near a fish-filled pond, redbud and native poppy. As Martinez puts it, his “real job” is with a consulting firm called Organic Integrity International, which helps companies like Target and Sabra with their organic product lines. However, he’s never happier than when he’s trimming trees around the yard and improving his home’s native landscaping. 

Favorite beach hangout: CALADESI ISLAND. “People are under the impression you need a boat to get there. You don’t. There used to be a pass that was there that closed in, I don’t know, 20 years ago, so you can now walk to Caladesi Island from north Clearwater. I’ve done it quite a bit.”
Best reason to leave Gulf Boulevard: SUNSET BEACH. “It’s sort of a little bit off the beaten track, so that’s one of the reasons it feels pretty special.”
Best place to staycation: MANASOTA KEY. “That’s like the coolest place. What [Manasota Beach Club] did is, they bought up all these homes on the beach, and they put in a clubhouse and tennis courts and a pool. So when you go there, you rent these homes right on the beach. It’s like a best-kept secret, and you can rent a home that sleeps 10 people. It’s beautiful. You can be in the water and not see a building. And there’s several mom and pop hotels you can stay in, or motels. Very reasonable.”
Best local landmark that’s now closed: CRYSTAL SPRINGS ROLLER RINK. “There’s an old wooden roller skating rink in the woods, and it’s all elevated, four feet off the ground. It’s only open like two nights a week or something. It’s a cool place.”
Best guilty pleasure: THE HARRY WAUGH DESSERT ROOM AT BERN’S. “It can’t be beat. There’s nothing on that menu I don’t like. When my nieces were younger, that was a regular thing. Typically, I don’t eat dessert. If I go for dessert, I’m going for dessert. It’s the event of the evening.”
Best day trip: CUMMER MUSEUM. “It’s a fabulous museum. I was shocked. I’d never heard of it, and I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago. It’s on the St. Johns River, and the gardens were designed by the Olmsted Brothers who did Central Park.”
Favorite live music venue: SWEETWATER ORGANIC COMMUNITY FARM. “I’m very fortunate. We have a wonderful live music series here, so the musicians come to us. They love playing here in exchange for a bag of veggies. It’s real special.”
Best way to unwind: STARKEY WILDERNESS PRESERVE. “Up in Pasco County, it has a great bike trail, lots of wildlife. I’ve seen bobcats and lots of deer and lots of birds and squirrels and gopher tortoises. And it’s right through one of the remnants of natural Florida.”
Best freshwater gems: FLORIDA’S SPRINGS. “There’s so many springs to choose from, and I would suggest to spend a summer touring our springs. Manatee Springs, the one up in High Springs. All you gotta do is Google ‘em and you can come up with probably 20 springs that are just special.”
Best place for boaters: THE SUWANNEE RIVER. “One of my very favorite things to do is to rent a house boat on the Suwannee River. It’s something everyone should do. Of course, they should have some boating knowledge if they’re gonna do it.”
Best date-night destinations: COSTAS RESTAURANT or MYKONOS in Tarpon Springs. “[My spouse Gail Johnson and I] love to go there and have Greek food, and then take a walk down the waterfront.”
Best way to enjoy your surroundings: BALLAST POINT PIER. “Take a bag of popcorn, walk out on the pier and enjoy the waterfront.”
Best after-dinner stroll: THE BOARDWALK at GRAND HYATT TAMPA BAY. “It’s beautiful. You can go out there to Oystercatcher’s, or Armani’s, and walk on their boardwalk afterwards. If you go during the day, you can see the spoonbills. I used to go crabbing there as a child before the Hyatt was there.”
Best manatee-watching spot: SWEETWATER PARK. “There’s a real nice little park on Sweetwater Creek called Sweetwater Park. You access it from Independence, and it’s a 20-acre park right on the creek. I’ve seen manatees there.”
Best places with secret beaches: CYPRESS POINT PARK & PICNIC ISLAND PARK. “The one on the end of Cypress [Street]. If you take it all the way to the end, there’s a real cool beach there, and not too many people know about it. And of course, Picnic Island is kind of a cool place to go as well.”
Best-looking neighborhood: ROSER PARK. “You feel like you’re in San Francisco. That’s a very special neighborhood.”

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