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Archive for December, 2010

What’s Organic About Organic

What’s Organic About Organic screened locally last month for one night only at a yoga studio on South Beach. If you missed it and want to see the film, you’ll have to buy the DVD. Copies (licensed for home viewing) are available for $20 (+ $5 shipping) on the movie web site until Dec. 31. You have the choice of donating 10 per cent of the proceeds to FOG (Florida Organic Growers), the not-for-profit educational arm of the organic certifying agency in Florida.

Many of the people who read this blog are already aware of the importance of eating local and organic food. They’ve had their culinary awakening. Readers I’ve met tell me they’ve read Michael Pollan, seen the movie Food Inc., and are aware of horrors of factory farming. They’re doing their best to clean up their act in hopes of cleaning up the food system. As a result they are CSA members, shop at farmers markets, and/or grow their own food gardens.

That’s all well and good. Now, as conscious eaters and locavores, how do we take it to the next level? How can we eat with an ecological consciousness?

That question is posed by What’s Organic About Organic, a new thought-provoking documentary. According to Marty Mesh, organic farmer and executive director of FOG (Florida Organic Growers), “Organic farmers are stewards of the land. The environmental benefits serve all, such as clean water and carbon sequestration. Consumers need to realize how expensive cheap food is, what the hidden costs are,” he said. “What does it cost to clean up polluted water, and what does it cost for farm worker health care?”

Growing and eating organic food is an environmental act. WOAO interviews several organic farmers who grow according to what’s good for soil and plants. They see themselves as stewards taking care of the land, with a stated mission of preservation of farmland, as compared to conventional or “chemically addicted” growers.

The film also follows the evolution of organic regulation and marketing of organic foods. The organic marketplace is getting increasingly consolidated, and “small farmers can’t meet price or variety or volume to get into larger stores. They (large chain stores) want only what they can market,” Marty said in the film. And, according to the film, one solution would be to create a farmer-owned brand which doesn’t compromise its organic principles and practices, and which can market itself to stores like the large growers do.

Shelley Rogers and Marty Mesh

Marty was was interviewed for the documentary, and is also its co-producer. He was present at last month’s screening, where I met him and filmmaker Shelley Rogers.

Shelley told me that she always was into environmental issues. Her mother was a nutritionist, and they had a vegetable garden. But it wasn’t until she worked as a sous chef that she had her own awakening about food. When told not to wash zucchini before chopping it up (because it would take too much time), Shelley began to wonder, “What are we serving to these people? Who touched this? How was it grown? What do I know about it?”

Sharing answers to these questions led her to grad school at NYU where she got her degree in media culture and mass communication. She was inspired to use media for social change, and started work on WOAO in 2005. “I want to get people to become aware of the environmental benefits of organic production. I want them to think for themselves, and see that organic is valuable.” More consumers have to become involved in the organic food movement, however. If it’s farmers only, it’s a big uphill battle.

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The Fall 2010 issue of Edible South Florida has a wonderful photo essay about the women farmers among us. Get to know Muriel Olivares, Teena Borek, Margie Pikarsky, Gabriele Marewski and Alice Pena.

The magazine is free at Whole Foods (look in the produce section) in Dade and Broward counties, and other locations around town.

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Happy Holidays!

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A farmer’s life is not always hard work. The farmers I know like to take time off to party, and they always have good food! This past Sunday was Farm Day, the annual open house at Bee Heaven Farm.  The weather was glorious, sunny but not too hot and not too humid. CSA members and friends of the farm were invited to hang out for the afternoon. Over 100 people showed up, mostly families with children, to eat good food, listen to live music, build scarecrows and go on hay rides, and socialize with fellow fans of the farm. For hard core locavores, this was a rare chance to visit the very place where their food comes from.

Lining up at Dim Ssam a GoGo.

New this year was Dim Ssam a GoGo, the food truck from Sakaya Kitchen. Chef Richard Hales and two assistants were on board filling orders as quick as they could. Chef Richard worked his pan-asian magic on various vegetables provided by Farmer Margie. I recognized eggplant, radishes, cucumber, bok choy and garlic chives from the heavy boxes delivered to his restaurant a couple days before. They reappeared grilled and roasted, and in the form of kimchee. The line at the truck was crazy! It went from here to way over there! Later, I saw various people going through the line a few more times. Maybe the truck had to be empty before it could leave?

Grant Livingston

People sat on bales of straw and ate at tables in the sun outside the barn. It was close to the food and the coolers full of homemade herbal teas — lemongrass, roselle, and allspice berry. From there you could watch kids building scarecrows and listen to live music. Grant Livingston was back to charm us with his songs and stories about life in Florida. He sings and plays guitar in a laid back folk style, and his catchy tunes have gentle humor and poetic turns of phrase.

It takes a village to build a scarecrow.

Scarecrow building was popular from previous years, and you never know what kind of straw people kids and parents will create. Lengths of pvc pipe and connectors, plus old clothes and lots of straw were set out. First you make the skeleton out of pipes, and then you build the body by stuffing clothes with straw. The challenge is to make a head somehow. Bags usually work. The best part was that you could take your scarecrow home with you to protect your garden.

Hayride around Bee Heaven Farm.

Farmer Margie gave hay rides with the green tractor and a trailer loaded with bales of straw. People sat on the bales and watched the farm go by at three miles per hour. Margie circled the property and pointed out different things growing here and there. The ride was extremely popular this year. As soon as it was over, more people climbed aboard the bales and staked out their spots. Yes, they sat there waiting for 20 minutes until the next ride! More, more!

Raw food chef Pam Molnar admires watermelon radishes.

Inside the barn, a small farmers market was set up. If you haven’t been out to Homestead, Overtown or Pinecrest Markets, it was a fair representation of what you’ve been missing. A long row of tables zig-zagged along one wall, loaded down with produce. Fruit was on one end — passion fruit, tart “tangy-rines”, starfruit, avocados, red grapefruit, black sapote, and papaya. Greens and herbs loaded down the other end — yukina savoy, mixed salad greens, lettuce, arugula, garlic chives, dill, sage — and interesting vegetables in the middle — eggplant with funny appendages, watermelon radishes that have white flesh with a red center, globe radishes, dragon tongue beans, and maybe the last of the green beans for a while because of the last freeze. A lot of this stuff you just won’t find in the stores.

Wings, grilled eggplant, kimchee, pulled pork sandwiches and crispy duck wraps.

Back to the food from Dim Ssam… It was amazing! I tasted a variety of things. Juicy chicken wings with a soy-honey-ginger-pepper sauce that was not too hot but definitely flavorful. Kinchee made with French breakfast radishes, cucumber, bok choy and cilantro provided by the farm, and chunks of garlic, pickled in a peppery sauce that had a slight fermented kick. Grilled eggplant with garlic chives and a soy-based sauce. Pulled pork sandwich with a pinkish, zippy “kimchee” sauce. Crispy duck wrap with crunchy veggies, amazing sauces, and wreathed in fresh cilantro. Everything was so delicious, I wanted one of each from the truck, but my belly ran out of room. So leftovers went to James, the farm’s Intern Composter, who was wandering around hungry for food scraps, and happy for a taste of Sakaya cooking, yum!

Happy winners of the coveted composter.

The afternoon wound to a close with the raffle. A Smith & Hawken Biostack Composter was up for grabs. There were a fair number of entries, and people were excited and hopeful to win it. (Apparently this particular composter does a good job, but is rare as hens teeth.) The Sebesta family won the composter, and Nancy B. won a box of produce. Winners, enjoy your prizes in good health!

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Dr. Marvin Dunn surveys the Roots in the City garden and market.

The Roots in the City Farmers Market in Overtown opened on Wednesday Dec. 8th for its second season. You may remember that it ran for a couple months, March and April, earlier this year. Now it’s back at the same corner of NW 10 St. and 2 Ave. in Miami, and it’s grown a bit bigger with two new vendors, Gardens of TROY and Nature Boyz. The same growers from the first time are there also — RITC Gardens, Teena’s Pride, Redland Organics and Hani’s Mediterranean Organics.

The first day of the season called for Grand Opening festivities and VIPs. It wasn’t as crazy a party as last spring, but all the important people were there — chef Michael Schwartz, chef Michel Nischan, a PBS video crew, Farmer Margie and her intern Liberty, students from nearby Phyllis Wheatley Elementary, Dr. Marvin Dunn, Teena and Michael, an assortment of foodies and neighborhood shoppers, and most of the food bloggers in town.

Market co-founder and chef Michael Schwartz  brought his food cart, and his crew dished out grilled rosemary chicken garden vegetable chopped salad, which was quickly devoured. The recipe was created by a student from Phyllis Wheatley Elementary, where chef Michael recently visited, as part of the new Chefs Move to Schools program.Schwartz’s market partner, chef Michel Nischan, loped up and down the row of tents, stopping to greet growers and shoppers. Michel’s foundation, Wholesome Wave, donated matching funds to use with SNAP aka food stamps, good for up to $20 per person per day. Last season, a large number of people used the matching funds tokens to supplement their shopping.Chef Michel Nischon (plaid shirt) is trailed by producer Jon Crane and his crew, while farmer Margie Pikarsky looks on.

Michel was trailed by a PBS crew shooting a segment about him for the AARP show “My Generation.” He was speaking passionately about food and urban farming with producer Jon Crane. “You can be poor but still grow food and be sustainable. Brooklyn had gardens and chickens years ago. There are so many great stories in this community,” he said, looking around. “Food gives a person a sense of place, self esteem and security, and it reaches across all socio-economic strata. All differences melt away with good local food.”

Chef Michael Schwartz chats with Ben Thacker, Jepson Jean-Pierre and Antonio Moss from TROY Academy, while Alexandra Rangel videotapes.

Michael Schwartz stopped by to chat with two TROY Community Academy students and Ben Thacker, their gardening program director. Some of the things for sale at their tent were callaloo, carrots, passion fruit, aloe plants, and garlic chives. “Each kid has his own garden,” Ben said, “and they get to keep the money from selling their crops. All the kids are eating it.” Michael replied quickly, “Don’t eat it, sell it!” Ben said, “We’re trying to get them to eat more fruit.” “Ok, eat it!” Michael responded. The students laughed. Videographer Alexandra Rangel hovered nearby with her camera, capturing the conversation for a promotional fundraising video for TROY.

Several large, perfect cabbages at Teena’s Pride tent caught my eye, along with exotic looking pattypan squash. There were red round tomatoes, cucumbers, and an assortment of other veggies and fresh herbs. All those and more can be yours on a weekly basis if you join the Teena’s Pride CSA. It’s not too late to sign up, and there are about 100 spots left. For prices and details, email farm@teenaspride.com or call 786-243-1714.

Marguerite the Nubian goat hangs out with Hani Khouri and his wife Mary Lee, while customers sample fresh goat cheese.

Over at the other end of the market, Marguerite the Nubian goat was hanging out with her humans, ice cream and cheese makers Hani and Mary Lee Khouri of Hani’s Mediterranean Organics. Of course everybody had to come over to take pictures of the goat… pet the goat… sample the ice cream… maybe get a falafel wrap… At the next tent, Farmer Margie had a large array of fruits, vegetables and herbs. She’s also set up to take SNAP funds and credit cards.

It was a pleasant afternoon in the neighborhood, and the most important people there were the people who live in the area shopping for fresh food. During the spring, the beginning of market was slow but by the end of the second month, a good number of regulars from the neighborhood came by. If things go like last season, every week will draw more people out of their food desert to partake of locally grown bounty.

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