Remembering Hani Khouri

Hani Khouri and his ice cream scooper ready to go!

I first met Hani Khouri at a farmers market set up in a parking lot in front of a grocery store off US1. The market was a motley bunch of tents and vendors selling all manner of locally grown produce, flowers and treats. Hani had his table set up next to Bee Heaven Farm’s sprawling tent, and he was offering tastes of his artisanal farmer’s cheese made from goat milk. He was enthusiastic about the health benefits of goat milk, how it differs from cow’s milk, and how his cheese was the best. I was reluctant to try, because I had never liked the tang of soft goat cheese, and have problems with cow’s milk.


Hani invited me to try a bite, and cautiously, I did. The farmers cheese was firm, a lttle crumbly, and sweet. No goaty tang. It was delicious! I asked him his secret, and he told me, but now as I write this, I can’t remember what it was. I do recall that he had a cooler loaded with containers of cheese and milk on ice. For some time he didn’t have a tent for market, and relied on shade from his trademark Panama hat.


Hani expanded sales to other farmers markets, and provided cheese to several local restaurants. He created goat milk ice cream – yes, ice cream! It had some of that traditional goat cheese funk and tang, and was flavored with tropical fruits and fresh sugar from local growers. All local, all organic. It was hard to choose a favorite. They were all very good, including the one made with tart cas guava.


Hani expanded into preparing various Lebanese dishes, and hosted several dinners around the Redland area. The food was tasty and the dinners were popular. Of course Hani teamed up with Margie Pikarsky to provide his cooked food and cheese as add-on shares for her weekly CSA veggie boxes. Occassionally he would drop off something different for Margie to try. This is how I learned about ful mudamas (fava bean dish) and namoura (sweet semolina cake). It was all scrumptious, and again, hard to choose my favorite.


Hani also introduced me to his kids – his Nubian goats’ offspring, that is. I visited a few weeks after they were born. The front yard had been transformed into a goats’ playground, as the young kids bounced, leaped, trotted, skipped and climbed on top of anything. They were in constant motion and very entertaining to watch. Hani explained that goats like to climb on top of things. One kid would climb on top of an old stump, then the next would push him off and climb up. They also liked to climb on top of an old white plastic toy igloo then leap off, or nap inside it. The older goats were friendly, and came up to the fence to nibble on my clothes.


Years later, Hani and I were sitting on a log at a bonfire one evening at Bee Heaven Farm. His wife Mary Lee and two of his children were there, along with a number of Margie’s friends and neighbors. Occasionally she would have a fire, usually on a cold night, and would invite people over. Hani and I were watching the flames, and chatting about life. My heart had been broken recently, and I was feeling blue. “How do you know it’s the one?” I asked Hani. “You just know,” he told me. “I married my best friend.” His one true love Mary Lee smiled at him across the flickering fire. Hani would do anything for her. He moved heaven and earth to buy goats and a farm so she could have good milk and cheese; and he went through great lengths to find and prepare organic, clean, fresh food so she could recover her health. And she thrived for many years from his loving care. Hani’s entrepreneurship began because of love, and he made his food with love. You could taste it in every bite.


Further reading about Hani Khouri:


Obituary published in Edible South Florida



GoFundMe fundraiser for the Khouri family



Best cheese 2013


Goatherd and cheesemaker Hani Khouri rolls a bale of alfalfa to the goat’s pen at dinner time.

DATES: October 15 and 16, 2016, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
LOCATION: Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187 Avenue, Redland, FL
ADMISSION:  $10 cash per person at the gate.
Advance tickets $8 online until Oct. 12 at Brown Paper Tickets .
Children under 12 get in free.
Military families can get free tickets at www.VetTix.org .

A celebration of all local things edible, green, and growing

Redland GrowFest! returns for the fifth year to the Fruit & Spice Park October 15 & 16, 2016. This annual event celebrates all local things edible, green, and growing. Growers offer a bonanza of seedlings, starter plants and native and tropical fruit trees for home or school gardens and food forest projects. Food and artisan vendors feature products made with Redland-Raised ingredients, like the festival’s signature jackfruit curry.

Bee Aware! is this year’s festival theme, highlighting our pollinators, so essential for many crops. The Tropical Beekeepers Association, this year’s event beneficiary, will be on hand to share information about beekeeping from the hobby to the professional level and their educational projects. The club meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Redlands Community Church.

Organic grower and festival organizer Margie Pikarsky, owner of Bee Heaven Farm, believes it’s important for folks in the South Florida area to be aware of our diverse local agricultural resources, and learn how to take advantage of the unique possibilities our tropical climate offers.

The Chefs’ Local Cookoff Challenge on Sunday, joined this year by a similar Students’ Local Cookoff Challenge on Saturday, asks renowned local chefs and students to get creative with a Mystery Box full of Redland-Raised seasonal crops. Awesome deliciousness results from their inspired dishes!

Lectures and demos throughout the weekend by UF/IFAS/Miami-Dade County Extension agents, 4-H, Master Gardeners, and other local experts will inform growers at all levels – from balcony to backyard growers, urban, small and large farmers.

Event sponsors include Dade County Farm Bureau, Edible South Florida, District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, UF/IFAS Miami-Dade County Extension, Homestead Hospital, FIU Agroecology Program, Slow Food Miami, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Fresh From Florida/Redland Raised, Bee Heaven Farm and the Fruit & Spice Park.

For more information and schedule of activities, visit the Redland GrowFest! web site.


Chefs’ Local Cookoff Challenge: Sunday, 1:30 pm

The Chefs
Sean Brasel – Meat Market
Michael Reidt – Pilgrim
Samantha Narvaez – PG Bakery
Chef Pablo Zitzmann – Trust and Company
Simon Stojanovik – Swank Farm/ Swank Table

The Judges
Galena Moscovitch – Herald and Zagat writer
Sarah Liss – Writer/Saffron Supper Club
Eleanor Hoh – Wok Star cooking teacher, Blogger

The Ingredients
• a mystery box of locally-grown seasonal food
• a limited pantry with locally-grown ingredients plus a few basic staples
• 3 ingredients of their choosing

The Result
Awesomely creative deliciousness!

Sea of seedlings

Heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings in the foreground, and a forest of ginger and turmeric in the back.

Heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings in the foreground, and a forest of ginger and turmeric in the back.

A few days ago I paid a visit to Bee Heaven Farm, and took a peek inside the big, new greenhouse. What I saw was amazing — a sea of vegetable and herb seedlings growing in flats of little black plastic pots. They filled almost one half of the 60 foot wide by 90 foot long greenhouse. In the other half of the greenhouse was a double row easily 60 feet long, of larger plants, mostly ginger and turmeric, growing in large felt pots.

I lost count of how many plants I was looking at, so let’s just say that there was about 250 square feet of young plants and seedlings. That’s a lot more than what Farmer Margie Pikarsky had started this time last year, growing plants on long benches made of recycled wooden pallets.

Almost all these young plants are destined for the farm’s seedling sale at Redland GrowFest! which is coming up this weekend. The sale is the heart and purpose of the festival, started and run by Margie, which celebrates all things local and growing.

As I strolled up and down the greenhouse rows taking pictures, I stopped here and there to read the labels. Herbs include Cuban oregano, basil, lemongrass and cilantro. Hotheads will rejoice to see a wide variety of peppers, both hot and mild — datil, bird, bishop’s crown, hot thai, wiri wiri, Anaheim, Jimmy Nardello and cachucha, to name a few.

Heirloom tomato seedlings.

Heirloom tomato seedlings.

And fans of heirloom tomatoes have the usual wide assortment to choose from. Shapes and colors range from large, small, pear shaped, oval, round, yellow, orange, black, green striped, and of course classic red round and plum. The names of the heirloom tomatoes are just as varied — green envy, Juliet, podland pink, Ukrainian purple, black krim, sweet million, sunset pear, Japanese oxheart, garden peach (yes, a fuzzy tomato!), Arkansas traveler. These are tried and true varieties that do well in our South Florida heat and humidity, and which Margie plants on her farm season after season.

Both the farm and the Fruit and Spice Park, where Redland GrowFest! is held, are inside the Oriental Fruit Fly (OFF) quarantine zone. I asked Margie if that was going to create a problem. She explained that it’s business as usual this year. “There’s no drastic changes this year. Seedlings and plants without fruit are not an issue,” she told me. “Greens and herbs are ok too.”

To make sure that everything is safe, and no flies are found, Margie explained that all plant and fruit vendors had to sign an FDACS compliance agreement that stated they are taking all required precautions against the OFF. “Fruit has to be covered to provide protection for the potential host material.” Fruits in season now are avocados, guavas, carambola and pitaya, and they will have to be kept inside fine mesh screening or plastic containers to keep the dangerous little flies away. The OFF lays its eggs inside fruit. No fruit — or no access to fruit — there’s no fly and no problem. The only thing that visitors can’t do is bring fallen fruit out of the park.

Dried bananas are sweet, chewy, and full of real banana flavor.

Dried bananas are sweet, chewy, and full of real banana flavor.

You won’t find fresh fruit at the Bee Heaven Farm tent. “Dried fruit is my thing,” Margie said, and her fruit dryer has been humming night and day this summer. She is offering a choice of dried carambola, mamey, mango, persimmon, or bananas, and a mixed assortment called Fruits of Summer. Fruit that has been processed in some way — dried, or made into jam, for example — is safe against the fly.

So come to the festival to buy seedlings and plants for your garden this growing season, and stay to listen to live music, and eat delicious local food. There’s a full schedule of live demos and presentations given by gardening and plant experts who will share a wealth of knowledge — all included in the price of admission! It’s the fourth year for Redland GrowFest! and it looks like it’s going to be the best year so far.

FEATURED SPEAKER: Jim Ewing, former president of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, will be presenting on two topics:
Creating an Edible Forest on a Permaculture Model. Jim outlines various layouts and strategies for incorporating perennials into a traditional growing layout, providing a more natural, stress-free food production area. Human beings have been doing this — prior to modern industrial agriculture — for millennia, from the birth of human kind on the savannahs of Africa.
Sunday, October 18 at 10:00 am
Selling Your Crop: Tips for Small Producers. Calling his techniques “guerilla marketing,” Jim gives tips for small producers to increase sales through various strategies — cheaply! — using social media, targeting markets and objectively weighing and maximizing options for one’s unique situation.
Sunday, October 18 at 1:00 pm
 A former organic farmer, Jim serves or has served with numerous ag, food system and environmental organizations, and is currently on the administrative council and a member of the executive committee of the 15-state Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE USDA) program that serves Florida. He is the author of seven books, including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating.