Posts Tagged ‘Margie Pikarsky’

Written by Sheryl Dutton
Photos courtesy of Sheryl Dutton

I came across a unique opportunity one day last spring, as I drove around Redland. I had been living in the area for roughly a year, dreaming of starting my own organic farm and homestead. Farming had been a hobby of mine for some time and although my projects had been confined to small plots, I was driven by big ideas. I wanted more experience, working with the land and learning how to turn my love of farming into a possible business. I had recently visited Robert Barnum of Possum Trot Farm to gather fruit and art supplies from his 40-acre grove of rare and useful trees. While I was there, I decided to ask Robert if he needed an apprentice or knew of any opportunities to learn more about farming. Luckily he said yes. He mentioned a New Farmer Apprenticeship Program offered by Florida International University’s Agroecology department, funded by a USDA grant. I got in touch with the program director and applied right away.

The New Farmer Apprenticeship Program included a variety of monthly workshops and 100 hours of field experience. I attended workshops on topics like beekeeping, laurel wilt disease detection, how to apply for farm loans, grants and more. I got to meet many young, prospective farmers with similar goals as mine and the same insatiable thirst for knowledge. For my fieldwork I chose to go to Bee Heaven and Possum Trot, both established Redland farms within 5 miles of my home.

Sheryl and her two boys, attending Farm Day 2013, at Bee Heaven Farm.

Sheryl and her two boys, attending Farm Day 2013, at Bee Heaven Farm.

I started out with Margie Pikarsky on her 5 acre certified organic Bee Heaven Farm. I had been a member of her highly recommended CSA program for about 4 years and had attended events there with my family. I was familiar with the farm and knew I had a lot to learn from Margie. We had spoken many times about our favorite plants, our adventures with chickens and other things when I’d pick up my produce every Saturday. I knew she ran a very organized and well-managed farm but I didn’t know exactly what was involved until I had the chance to work side by side with her and her staff. I got to experience part of the busy CSA season, how all the orders came in, were distributed and then prepared to take to market. Some days we’d work in the packinghouse and fill hundreds of orders, other days we’d work out in the field harvesting or preparing the beds for new crops. Everything about her farm is carefully planned out, solidified by many years of experience and held to a very high standard. I likened her operation to a well-oiled machine, always recalibrating to the whims of Mother Nature.

Sheryl, Robert and John

Sheryl, Robert and John

Then I switched gears, moving on to what would be an unforgettable experience at Possum Trot Farm with Robert Barnum. I had heard many stories about the 40-acre wonderland from friends of mine and after visiting a few times, my interest was piqued. Robert’s collection of rare, edible and useful tree species is quite special.

The mix of mature trees living there are the result of many decades of work, collecting, preserving, selecting and sometimes naming new varieties. He proudly refers to himself as a land steward of the many fruits, nuts, hardwoods, citrus and more that he has cared for throughout his life. For me and the other apprentices that worked there, Possum Trot was an ideal outdoor classroom and Robert’s unique approach to mentoring was a one of a kind experience. Each day was a new adventure. One day we’d be identifying trees, harvesting or cleaning up the nursery, another day we’d be attending an auction, repairing equipment or cooking up interesting meals in his kitchen. Every conversation was educational and I’d say that I definitely learned more than I bargained for!

Nursery maintenance, Possum Trot

Nursery maintenance, Possum Trot

The overall message I gleaned from my time at Bee Heaven and Possum Trot confirmed what I knew but in my hopeful naivety had not accepted. Farming for profit, no matter what angle you come at it, is hard work with unpredictable returns and a multitude of political obstacles to navigate. In my opinion farming has got to be one of the most underappreciated and underpaid professions out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are many successful farmers out there, making a living and making a difference. In no way do I mean to undermine them, but for the most part, the industrial food system (big agriculture) has stacked the odds against local, small farmers. In a way it has forced them to be more innovative. There is a growing trend to eat local and organic, to avoid GMOs and packaged foods. We’re getting back to the basics of fresh, nutrient rich foods like our great grandparents enjoyed. Our health as individuals and as a culture depends on it.

Beekeeping workshop

Beekeeping workshop

Maybe more importantly than the effect our food system has on people, are the long lasting, possibly irreversible effects that conventional farming practices are having on the environment. Small scale, intensive farming has been proven to be more sustainable over time when compared to conventional single crop farming. Widespread uses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have been described by many as an attack on the living world. Conventional farming practices not only pollute the air, water and soil but also pollute the bodies of all living things. Turning a blind eye is not an option.

I wasn’t able to complete my apprenticeship with FIU for personal reasons but I did greatly appreciate the chance to get a behind the scenes look at some of the farms and farmers I had come to admire over the years. The experience did however alter my plans of starting my own organic farm in Redland. After meeting some second-generation farmers in the area and hearing their stories of growing up in Homestead, I questioned whether it would be the best thing for my family. I had to ask myself, “Was farming the kind of future I wanted for my children? Was starting an organic farm a sound investment that I could manage with predictable returns?” My answer to both was an unfortunate no. I decided that I was content to be an avid collector of plants and trees, a small scale, backyard farmer and a supporter of local food. I get to work out my big ideas and make a positive impact in other ways.

View from Poindexter's tailgate

View from Poindexter’s tailgate

I feel like there is a lot of work to do in this area in what might be the most important shift of our generation: Transitioning from being mass consumers to abundant producers, reworking our value system into something that directly benefits us rather than distracts us, utilizing our land in ways that support our health and wellness without disrupting the ability of the natural world to support all life for generations to come. Like I said, big ideas and while we’re at it, why not reinvent what it means to be a farmer in a changing world. The New Farmer Apprenticeship position through FIU’s Agroecology Program addressed just that. It was a valuable experience for me that helped shape my future plans and solidify my understanding of the local food system where I live and beyond. All stereotypes aside, farmers have the job of feeding us all. It’s a big responsibility and they deserve our support! Eat up!

Sheryl Dutton

Sheryl Dutton

Sheryl Dutton currently lives in Miami with her family and works as a Permaculture Designer, specializing in the design and installation of tropical fruit groves, edible forest gardens and small kitchen gardens. Sheryl is the owner of Earthscape Art & Design and is available for consultations.


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Mike the visiting farmer gets a visit from the Congressman. L to R: Mike, Margie Pikarsky, Joe Garcia, Mike Dill, Kevin Chambliss. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Mike the visiting farmer gets a visit from the Congressman. L to R: Mike, Margie Pikarsky, Joe Garcia, Mike Dill, Kevin Chambliss. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

It’s not every day that a politician stops by Bee Heaven Farm. But back in January, on a gray drizzly afternoon, Congressman Joe Garcia and some of his staff came to pay a visit with farmer Margie Pikarsky, one of his constituents.

“He’s making a real point of talking to farmers,” Margie told me. “Finding out what we do, what we need, what we want, and how to help.” She said he mentioned that he’s working on a series of visits with all the organic growers in Redland to get their input.

The visit made a favorable impression on farm intern Nicole Fiori. “I thought it was really refreshing to see that he got involved. It felt like he actually wanted to help us achieve our goals.”

Joe Garcia and Margie Pikarsky walking and talking at Bee Heaven Farm. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Joe Garcia and Margie Pikarsky walking and talking at Bee Heaven Farm. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

And so Margie took the Congressman on a tour of her farm. They strolled around and stopped to smell aromatic allspice leaves, taste delicate pei tsai greens, and spoke about various topics impacting agriculture — NAFTA, immigration labor, and two insect borne diseases — laurel wilt and citrus greening — which are threatening to destroy Florida’s avocado and citrus crops.

Read more about the Congressman’s visit here.

Farmer Margie Pikarsky and Congressman Joe Garcia, with a package of Rachel's Eggs. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Farmer Margie Pikarsky and Congressman Joe Garcia, with a package of Rachel’s Eggs. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

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Browsing for organic seedlings at the Bee Heaven Farm tent.

Browsing for organic seedlings at the Bee Heaven Farm tent.

(part 1 of 2)

Back for its second year this October, GrowFest! was the event for gardeners and locavores. Despite rain on Saturday afternoon and a slow start on Sunday morning, well over 1300 adults and kids came to the Fruit and Spice Park to browse for plants and nosh on good eats. Farmer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm, who organized the event (along with a group of fantastic volunteers), was delighted that the event is growing.

This year there was a mix of familiar and new vendors and exhibitors, a few less than last year, but each was worth checking out. Gardeners had plenty of plants to look at and buy, locavores found delicious things to taste, and there were plenty of interesting and knowledgeable people to talk to, with a wide variety of demos to attend.


The best way to carry mass quantities of seedlings!

Bee Heaven Farm had its usual sea of organic seedlings. Along with dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, you could also choose from a selection of vegetables, herbs and greens that grow well in our climate and are regularly raised at the farm. In response to customer demand, there were several varieties of eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, Asian greens, and intriguing herbs like lemongrass, curryleaf, turmeric (new this year).

Farm intern Nicole Fiori helps a customer choose heirloom tomato seedlings.

Farm intern Nicole Fiori (right)helps a customer choose heirloom tomato seedlings.

A big thanks to farm employee Luz, intern Nicole, and volunteers Dhilini, Alhen and Holly who were on hand all weekend!

Selecting loofahs and goat's milk soap.

Selecting loofahs and goat’s milk soap.

New this year was the addition of Flair’s Fayre line of goat milk products. The husband and wife team of Pat Houle and Dan McGillicuddy, along with their assistant Christine, were on hand with offerings of raw goat milk and cheeses (for pet consumption only), and an assortment of deliciously aromatic soaps that were very popular. All products are made with milk from their small herd of goats.

Margie Pikarsky, Marty Mesh and Steven Green discuss matters at the FOG tent.

Margie Pikarsky, Marty Mesh and Steven Green discuss matters at the FOG tent.

At the Florida Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. (FOG) tent, folks were selling chilled Uncle Matt’s organic citrus juices and sharing information on organic certification. Marty Mesh, the executive director, returned this year along with several staffers who were thrilled to introduce their newest statewide program, Fresh Access Bucks (FAB).

Staffer Carmen Franz explained that FAB doubles value, up to $20, that SNAP recipients can use to buy Florida grown fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets. So far, FABs are accepted at Urban Oasis Project farmers markets and Bee Heaven Farm (in this area). This new program is funded by a grant from the state agriculture department, and Wholesome Wave, a non-profit which pioneered matching funds. Become a member to help FOG support “a sustainable and just food and farm system for all.”

Two Innovative Farmers of the Year! Margie Pikarsky (2013) and Gabriele Marewski (2012).

Two Innovative Farmers of the Year! Margie Pikarsky (2013) and Gabriele Marewski (2012).

Farmer Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms Organic brought two kinds of salads: cactus salad made with nopalitos, and her signature Baby Brassica Blend which includes a colorful sprinkling of edible flowers. The farm is known for its elegant, gourmet Dinner in Paradise and Brunch in Paradise series, season starting soon.

Alfredo Anez, Katie Sullivan and Gretchen Schmidt are the key people who produce Edible South Florida.

Alfredo Anez, Katie Sullivan and Gretchen Schmidt are the key people who produce Edible South Florida.

Edible South Florida magazine debuted their latest issue, which is all about local food. Many local growers and artisans are featured, and if you haunt farmers markets and locavore restaurants and cafes, they may be familiar to you too — Helen Cole’s jerky, Hani’s falafel, and Zak’s bread to name a few. I spotted a picture of farmer Margie on page 23. (Next to it is a brief essay I wrote about Farm Day.) You can pick up a copy for free at Whole Foods, Joanna’s Marketplace and other locations around town.

Giant African Land Snails (GALS) in carious stages of growth. A sample of their eggs is in the upper right corner.

Giant African Land Snails (GALS) in various stages of growth. A sample of their eggs is in the upper right corner.

And the villain of GrowFest! was back for an encore — the Giant African Land Snail (GALS). It’s an invasive species that devours over 500 kinds of plants and is capable of munching stucco off your house. Fully grown, the snail is as big as your hand, and has unique vertical jagged stripes on its shell. If you see a GALS in your yard, absolutely do NOT touch it! Call the state Division of Plant Industry at 888-397-1517 to come get it. These snails can harbor a microscopic nematode that can infect your brain and kill you. Over 131,000 GALS have been located and captured in South Florida in the past two years.

Grower Arturo Gonzalez, of Margarita's Fruits & Vegetables brought a forest of mango and avocado saplings.

Grower Arturo Gonzalez, of Margarita’s Fruit Trees, brought a forest of mango and avocado saplings.


Bananas and plantains at Going Bananas


Beekeeping books and supplies from South Florida Bee Supplies.

Carnivorous plants from Envy Botanicals

Carnivorous plants from Envy Botanicals

Landscaping plants at Casey's Corner Nursery

Landscaping plants at Casey’s Corner Nursery.

Fresh potted herbs from Teena's Pride Farm

Fresh potted herbs from Teena’s Pride Farm.

Learn how to compost with worms, from the Fertile Earth Foundation.

Learn how to compost with worms, from the Fertile Earth Foundation.

Kamala Fletcher, Christiana Serlé, and Mike Moskos of the South Florida Food Policy Council

Kamala Fletcher, Christiana Serlé, and Mike Moskos of the South Florida Food Policy Council discuss the community’s food issues.

Ken Holden advocates incorporating Redland

Ken Holden advocates incorporating Redland.

Buy native plants from the Urban Paradise Guild

Buy native plants from the Urban Paradise Guild

(To be continued…)

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Indie filmmaker Maryam Henein is back in town with a free screening of her documentary Vanishing of the Bees, co-sponsored by Tropical Audubon Society and Slow Food Miami. Come see an award winning, informative, provocative, beautifully filmed documentary about the ongoing honeybee crisis.

To sweeten the deal, farmer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm will present a honey tasting. True to the name of her farm, there are vibrant and healthy bees living on her property, and the hives are maintained and honey gathered by beekeeper Miguel Bode. (You may have met him at various events at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.) At least two different kinds of honey — wildflower, and lychee and longan — are produced by the bees that call Bee Heaven their earthly home.

Admission is free, but you have to RSVP to Tropical Audubon Society at events@tropicalaudubon.org. Bee there!

A review of a previous screening back in May 2011 can be found here.

Can’t make it to the screening? You can watch online pay per view, or purchase a copy of the DVD at the film’s web site.


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(part 1 of 2 parts)

GrowFest! was the place to be for plant lovers last weekend! Over 850 adults, plus lots of kids, came to the first-ever event held at the Fruit and Spice Park in Redland. Festival organizer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm was thrilled with the turnout. “It was an unqualified success!” she exclaimed. Over 500 visited just on Saturday alone, exceeding her expectations. She promised that GrowFest will be an annual event at the Park.

(L to R): Margie Pikarsky, Nick Pikarsky and Louise King of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association

GrowFest! was a grassroots fundraiser for Florida Organic Growers (FOG), which received money from the gate, as well as proceeds from sales of juice and water at their tent. “We raised over $900 for FOG from ticket and raffle sales,” Margie told me. Executive director Marty Mesh was at the event, manning their tent, and answering questions at the screening of their documentary “What’s Organic About Organic” on both days. If you missed your chance see the movie or buy a copy of the DVD, you can order it from the filmmmaker’s web site. “FOG is the non-profit that certifies organic growers in Florida, and also provides education and outreach to growers, consumers, and policy makers,” Marty explained.

Marty Mesh poured local Lakewood Organics juices at the FOG tent.

The heart of GrowFest! was all about plants. And there were all kinds to choose from — vegetable seedlings, potted herbs, banana plants and avocado trees, and more. On Saturday morning, I volunteered at the Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics tent, and found myself surrounded by baby plants. Long tables were loaded with over 80 varieties of organic heirloom tomato seedlings, several varieties of eggplant, hot peppers, arugula, nasturtiums, Asian greens and perennial herbs like garlic chives, curryleaf, aloe and lemongrass. Farm helper Victor and his wife Ish, and volunteers Nicole and Holly were also there to assist.

Volunteers at the Bee Heaven Farm tent (L to R): Holly Victor, Ish and Nicole.

Lots of people came to buy seedlings, and it was fun talking to them about their gardens. Most were regulars from past seasons who knew exactly what they wanted. The very first shopper was a tall man with a cart who loaded up with over two dozen plants. He said he saved seeds from his tomatoes from the year before, and was back this year to try new varieties. Soon after, Melodee Rodriguez, a dedicated mom who is in charge of the edible garden at Coconut Grove Elementary School, came with a checklist of vegetables and herbs for her school’s garden, which had been put in by Slow Food Miami three years before.

La Diva herself, Laura Lafata, with heirloom tomato seedlings.

Two other growers also had their plants for sale at the Bee Heaven area. Arturo Gonzalez of Sunshine Organic Farms was selling three varieties of avocado trees — Donnie, Simmonds and Catalina. (His farm provided grape tomatoes and a variety of vegetables for the Bee Heaven Farm CSA last season.) Organic growers Bill and Thi Squire provided lots of napa cabbage and two kinds of bok choy seedlings.

The event’s poster child Beth Dunlop came to pick out several kinds of black tomatoes.

In a big blue tent by the front of the park, Master Gardeners from Miami-Dade Extension were on hand to answer gardeners’ questions about plant problems. Other staffers gave a demo on how to use rain barrels, and the 4-H Kids Zone was set up where kids could play and learn about plants. The Dade County Farm Bureau tent did fun things with kids, based on Ag in the Classroom materials.

Kids hanging out at the Farm Bureau tent.

The villain of the event was the exotic and invasive Giant African Land Snail (GALS). The ravenous creatures are a serious threat because they’ll eat almost any kind of plant, and even gnaw on the stucco on your house. Several people from the state Division of Plant Industry were on hand with empty shells to examine (no live snails!), and had lots of information about the imported pest. A fully grown snail shell was quite pretty, smooth and shiny with brown and white stripes, and was almost the length of my hand. Don’t think of touching live GALS without gloves on because they can carry meningitis and a parasite called rat lungworm. If you see a GALS in your yard, call 888-397-1517 to report it. Over 78,000 GALS have been caught just in the past year.

DPI Ag Tech Omar Garcia holds up the shell of a fully grown Giant African Land Snail. Be on the lookout!

Ann Schmidt (left), the hardest-working volunteer of them all, at the front gate.


Mike Moskos (left) volunteering at the entrance table.

Fruit and Spice Park manager Chris Rollins (center) answered visitors’ questions about tropical fruits.


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Florida Organic Growers (FOG) is organizing a Free Organic Farming Workshop at LNB Groves and Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Florida. The event will take place on Thursday October 11th 2012 , from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. The workshop will provide practical information and advice about organic tropical fruit and vegetable production, sustainable soil and weed management, marketing, and organic certification. The workshop is designed for current and prospective farmers, as well as service providers who are interested in learning and sharing about organic farming.

Marc Ellenby from LNB Groves and Margie Pikarsky from Bee Heaven Farm, along with FOG, will lead this workshop in these two locations. Marc Ellenby manages about 160 acres of tropical fruit groves in South Florida. He’s currently transitioning 15 acres to organic management. Species in production includes sapodilla, mamey sapote, black sapote, jackfruit, and dragon fruit. Marc will share with participants his insights into tropical fruit species and variety selection, weed management, organic certification and marketing. Marc will have the assistance of Tropical Fruit Crop Specialist Jonathan Crane from IFAS’ Tropical Research and Education Center.

Later in the day workshop participants will move to Bee Heaven Farm (about 1 mile away from LNB Groves) to learn about intense organic vegetable farming. Since 1995 Margie Pikarsky has managed Bee Heaven Farm, a five acre certified organic vegetable, herb and fruit farm. Bee Heaven Farm produces prized avocados and heirloom tomatoes, along with a wide variety of crops. Additionally the farm created a multifarm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that has grown tremendously. Margie will lead participants into an interactive tour of her farm and will share insights into managing organic vegetable production on limited acreage, soil management, organic certification and her CSA program.

The Farmer workshop is organized by Florida Organic Growers (FOG), a non-profit organization established in 1987 in Gainesville; and supported by a Specialty Crop Block Grant administer by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. FOG’s Education and Outreach Program promotes organic agriculture and healthy and just food systems, informing producers, consumers, media, institutions and governments about the benefits of organic and sustainable agriculture.

Space is limited and registration is required. Mail your completed registration form to Florida Organic Growers, P.O. Box 12311, Gainesville, FL 32604, fax to 352.377.8363, call 352.377.6355 or e-mail jose@foginfo.org. For more information visit www.foginfo.org/workshopsDownload registration form here

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Now is the time to sign up for farmers’ producer-sharing plans

Miami-Dade food loves can sign up now to get a share of fresh-grown produce straight from local farms.

By Christina Veiga cveiga@MiamiHerald.com

Fall marks the beginning of the main growing season for farmers in deep South Miami-Dade County. It’s also a time when veggie-lovers can join a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program.

CSA members pay in advance for fresh produce grown at local farms, explained Diane Diaz, who helps run Teena’s Pride CSA in Homestead.

Members get a share of the CSA’s harvest, the size of which will depend in part on Mother Nature. “It’s kind of like buying stocks into the farm, and as long as we don’t have a hurricane or a freeze, then your stocks are secure,” she said.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/04/2984348/now-is-the-time-to-sign-up-for.html

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