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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

https://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/memoriam-hani-khouri-businessman-chef-goatherd

 

GoFundMe fundraiser for the Khouri family

https://www.gofundme.com/f/hanikhouristroke

 

Best cheese 2013

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/best-of/2013/food-and-drink/best-cheese-6403651

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 .

GrowFest!
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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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SATURDAY

All Day – Master Gardener Plant Clinic

All Day – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry – Learn about the Redland Oriental Fruit Fly (OFF) quarantine, Giant African Land Snails (GALS) and Agro-Terrorism initiatives. Officers will be on hand for anyone needing to sign a compliance agreement.

10:00 am – 11:00 am  Fermenting Love – Shelah Davis

10:30 am – 11:30 am  Vermicomposting – Zarron Brown, Worm Whisperer

11:00 am – 12:00 noon  Asian Vegetables for South Florida – Dr. Qingren Wang, Commercial Vegetable Agent

12:00 noon – 1:00 pm  Easy Cooking with Asian Vegetables

1:30 pm – 2:30 pm  Home Composting – Adrian Hunsberger, MS Urban Horticulture Agent/Entomologist/Master Gardener Coordinator. Workshop participants will receive a voucher (one per household) for a free compost bin valued over $100. (Pick up your bin at Solid Waste, address will be provided.) Advance registration not required.

2:30 pm – 4:00 pm  Rain Barrel Workshops – Barbara McAdam, PA, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program.(Workshop is free, but advance registration required to reserve a rain barrel @$40). Register here for Saturday.

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm  Vermicomposting – Zarron Brown, the Worm Whisperer

SUNDAY

All Day – Master Gardener Plant Clinic

All Day – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry – Learn about the Redland Oriental Fruit Fly (OFF) quarantine, Giant African Land Snails (GALS) and Agro-Terrorism initiatives. Officers will be on hand for anyone needing to sign a compliance agreement.

10:00 am – 11:00 am  Creating an Edible Forest on a Permaculture Model  – Jim Ewing, member USDA SSARE, Exec Comm

10:30 am – 11:00 am  Vermicomposting – Zarron Brown the Worm Whisperer

11:00 am –12:00 noon  Goat Milking Demo – Christina Nielsen, Flair’s Fayre goatherder

12:00 noon – 1:00 pm  Art of Kombucha – Buster Brown

12:45 pm – 1:30 pm  Proper Pruning of Fruit Trees live demo – Jeff Wasielewski, MS Tropical Fruit Extension Agent

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm  Selling Your Crop: Tips for Small Producers – Jim Ewing, member USDA SSARE, Exec Comm

1:30 pm – 2:30 pm  Chef Cookoff Challenge – 5 top chefs + limited ingredients + a mystery box of locally-grown food + 3 judges = a recipe for exciting creations with the unique foods of South Florida.

2:30 pm – 4:00 pm  Rain Barrel Workshops – Barbara McAdam, PA, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program. (Workshop is free, but advance registration required to reserve a rain barrel @$40) Register here for Sunday.

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm  Vermicomposting – Zarron Brown, the Worm Whisperer

Schedule subject to change.