Farm City Memories

Bart Zino

I arrived in Naples during the summer of 1998. I came to work at Distinctive Homes, at the time, a DBA of Wall Systems, Inc. of Southwest Florida, under the direction of Dick Greenwell and Russell Budd. Later that year, in November I made my first trip to a Farm City BBQ. Ironically, the location that year was Roberts Ranch, the same as this year. Back then, the Ranch had not been restored, the grounds and buildings very rustic (and unsafe in some instances) and the citrus groves were still in place, a far cry from today’s Roberts Ranch.

Today, Roberts Ranch is a fully restored, historically preserved Collier County Museum, one of four in the county. The Roberts family were an original cattle baron and agricultural family, settling in Immokalee and driving their livestock north to Arcadia to sell.

This year, the Farm City BBQ is back to Roberts Ranch. This event brings back memories of not only my first BBQ, but also of my early days with PBS. As the Project Manager and Superintendent that worked hand in hand with Donna Shelley, the museum and site curator and Bob Roberts, the sole survivor of the family, we worked closely together to complete a total and complete restoration of the homestead.

I am not going to go into the history of the Farm City BBQ, when it began in a year of bad weather, when the county farmers had nothing for Thanksgiving or much to eat, how the “city-folks” supported the community and their farmers, and how it grew to what it has become.

The purpose of Farm City has not changed over the 30 plus years it has been in Collier County…it is still about promoting the relationship between the agricultural and urban communities, and it is still all about friendship.

I started working the BBQ about 20 years ago. Back in the day, we were happy when we had 700 people show up. Over the last several years, we have entertained and fed over 2,500 people each year. I have watched the same people show up every year. I have met my same “once a year” friends the day before Thanksgiving, spawning friendships that have lasted two decades. After all, with the event being on the day before Thanksgiving, it takes a special group to put aside holiday preparations to come out and have a steak lunch with old friends! I think that is what I like best about this event. The friendships formed and nurtured, the kick-off to the holiday season…and the long lines that force everybody to meet and talk.

I look forward to seeing old friends and greeting our new friends. The next generation of annual participants are here and creating their own bonds and traditions.  Once again, I will be working the grills, but maybe not as hard as I used to. We have so much help now that all I get is a shift! If you see me say hi. If you don’t see me, I will be wandering the crowd, talking to folks on the food line, finding old friends, and sharing memories with volunteers that serving out the best steak lunch in Naples!