His motivations are simple. First, teach kids where their food comes from. Then, expand their minds on what’s available to eat. “A lot of kids don’t see or understand what there is to eat,” says chef Jason Stocks, the 36-year-old owner of the District Table & Bar in Stuart. Stocks is referring to the inspiration behind the Giving Garden project, an initiative he is involved in alongside his wife, Mirka Stocks, as well as Diane Cordeau of Kai Kai Farms and Nicholas Taylor of Local OrganicKs.
The Giving Garden project aims to educate the younger generation through gardening. A plot of land was selected at Palm City Elementary, and was cultivated on Oct. 22 by nearly 100 parents, students and other volunteers. “The idea is they’re going to grow the food, replant the food, then harvest it, and I’m going to teach them how to cook with it,” Stocks explains. It’s part of an effort to combat child hunger, a cause both he and Mirka Stocks care deeply about. “My wife is out there five times a week watering, taking care of the garden, and I’m out there myself,” he adds. Whatever harvested crops aren’t used in cooking are then donated to the House of Hope.
This passion for food from the source can be found on his own menu as well. District Table & Bar is known as a seasonally driven restaurant, meaning the menu changes based on what is at its peak at any given moment. “I’m always looking to use the best ingredients,” Stocks says, “and naturally, organic, local products are the best.” They can be hand-picked, don’t have to travel as far, and he can work directly with the farms to see what they’ll have that he can use, often communicating months in advance in order to plan.
But Florida is not the easiest place for this culinary approach. The climate presents a particular challenge, making it difficult to source only from the Sunshine State. For Stocks, keeping it local means coming from Florida, and when that’s not possible, being transparent about where those other ingredients come from. To him, being honest and making sure to serve the best of the best are the most important aspects of being a chef and restaurant owner.
The extra effort has paid off. District Table & Bar continues to be one of the most popular restaurants in the area, so much so that it has made plans to expand within Martin County later this year. And while the success is sincerely appreciated, it’s the spirit of service that resonates most with Stocks and his family. “I really have a passion for children and children’s needs in the community,” he says. He and Mirka Stocks both choose to support charities that give directly to the community, such as House of Hope, March of Dimes and Elevate Hope Foundation. And for a Palm City native raising his family in his hometown, it doesn’t get more local than that.