Local organic farmer Gabriele Marewski was recognized with the Florida Innovative Farmer Award at the 2012 Small Farm and Alternative Enterprise Conference this summer. (She joins Eva and Chris Worden of Worden Farm, organic growers in Punta Gorda, who were given the same award in 2010.)
Gabriele owns and operates Paradise Farms Organic, which is known for the Dinner in Paradise fine dining series every winter/spring. A portion of the proceeds from each dinner series is donated to small local non-profits. This season, Urban Greenworks and Slow Food Miami will receive donations. (Events are the main way that the community can visit the farm, which is otherwise not open to the public.)
In addition to dinners, Sunday morning brunches and occasional farm tours, Paradise Farms has branched out to other ventures, and recently started offering a venue for “sustainable, organic weddings” on the farm. Several cabins are available for B&B overnight stays.
The farm is also venturing into the realm of value-added foods. “We have a large 3’x3’ 24 shelf dehydrator where we are making teas from our edible flowers,” Gabriele said. In addition,”We have received a Value Added Producer Grant from the USDA to dehydrate our oyster mushrooms into a delicious healthy snack for school vending machines.” (The mushroom snacks are still in the focus group tasting stage.) And of course, Gabriele has made a name for herself growing microgreens and edible flowers for high-end restaurants.
Paradise is innovative in that it’s not only an organic farm, but also strictly vegetarian. Meat and meat products are not allowed on the property, whether they be dinner ingredients or farm nutrients. Gabriele is determined to keep it that way. “Vegetarianism is the single most important act to save our planet as it take lots of resources to produce commercial meat and is the biggest single pollutant of our waterways.”
The Innovative Farmer Award is a joint venture by the University of Florida and Florida A&M University to assist the state’s small farms, which are defined as having sales of less than $250,00 a year, and represent more than 90 per cent of all farms in Florida.