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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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Potluck lunch in the barn.

CSA members gathered at Bee Heaven Farm recently for Gleaning Day. They brought potluck dishes to share, and bags and containers for their loot. Because on Gleaning Day, you’re allowed to forage for your veggies.

Lisa and Alex chat with Farmer Margie.

Digging for treasure among the weeds.

The challenge is to find what’s left. To the uninitiated, frondy carrot tops look like the weeds that surround them. But with a little effort, the orange treasures release their grip on the soil jump into your bag.

Hanging out in the pump house.

Bali the horse loves Gleaning Day, because people want to feel him carrots. Bali looooves carrots!

Making new friends.

Browsing for raspberries.

Gleaners braved scratchy thorns in the raspberry brambles and had a berry berry good day.

Bags of veggie loot (mostly carrots — berries went straight into the mouth).

Napping in the shade of the java plum tree.

Seeking beets.

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Bagging the beans

Luis (left) weighs a bag of beans, with Victor and Donna.

Early on the last Friday of the CSA season, the sun rose steadily in the sky, and late season tomatoes in vegetable beds overrun with weeds glittered with the last fat drops of morning dew. Inside the big metal barn at Bee Heaven Farm, work had already started on packing the last shares of the season.

Bagging bushels of beans.

First, green beans had to be weighed and bagged. They had arrived the day before from Witt Road Farms in La Belle. Several full bushel boxes needed to be portioned out equally. Family shares got one pound, and small shares got half a pound. The farm interns got into two teams to divide up the work. In each team, two people bagged and weighed, and two tied and counted the bags.

Exactly one pound of green beans.

On my team, Victor and Luis bagged and weighed. Donna and I had the job of tying and counting. Donna showed me a cool, quick technique to tie a bag. She explained, “First you smush the air out of it, then fold over the top edge. Hold the two corners, flip the bag around a couple times, then knot the corners together.” The first time I tried flipping the bag, I smacked myself in the chest and Donna and I both laughed. “Better than your face,” she teased. She and I placed bags of beans into rows of five, counted, then loaded them into a green tote.

Bag, weigh, tie, count. Bag, weigh, tie, count.  The two teams bantered back and forth as they packed with a quick and easy flow that came from weeks of working together. Bag, weigh, tie, count. In 20 minutes it was all over — the crew packed 115 one-pound bags and 242 half-pound bags — and it wasn’t even 7:30 yet!

L to R: Victor, Sadie (hidden behind) Margie, Tim (hand showing, behind) Marsha, Luis, Donna

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Hungry critter

Hungry muncher in the bunch of dill.

Anybody have an idea what kind of caterpillar this is? It showed up in the bunch of dill that I was arranging when I came to photograph this week’s share. Despite the attention from my camera’s giant glass eye, the hungry caterpillar kept on munching. I put it on a plant outside the barn. Keep your eyes open because there could be more lurking. Margie said she spotted another caterpillar and picked off another one in a different bunch of dill.

I also heard a cricket chirping in my share box! Haven’t found it yet, and not sure where it is. Always an adventure with farm food!

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Gleaning Day

A few weeks ago, Gleaning Day marked the end of the CSA season at Bee Heaven Farm. It’s a fairly laid back event. CSA members bring a covered dish for a potluck lunch, and prowl the farm to pick what’s left.

Searching through dried up vines for the last of the heirloom tomatoes.

It was a sunny, hot Sunday morning, and people were already out in the vegetable beds looking for things to pick by the time I arrived. CSA members who had done this before came prepared. They were wearing hats and sunblock, and carried bags and containers for their loot. It’s best to pick first and hang out later before everything is gone and it gets too hot. Pretty much everything was up for grabs (unless it was roped off with pink ribbon). Heirloom tomatoes were the most popular and were the first to go.

An assortment of heirloom tomatoes.

I found a patch of tomatoes that somehow got overlooked, and started picking. My plastic bowl filled up with Green Grape, Podland Pink, Brown Berry and Speckled Roman tomatoes, to name the ones I know. They were perfectly ripe and warm from the sun. I ate a few too, and they tasted so good!

Nearby, a boy and his mother were working hard to pull up a parsnip. The boy looked up and saw my container, and the tomatoes I was putting into it. “Give it to me!” he said. I laughed and kept picking. His mother gave him a look. “Where did you get that?” he asked me, still with a demanding tone. “From home,” I said. The mother asked if there were containers in the barn. I said there might be something, and suggested they bring back a trowel for the parsnips. They headed off to the barn, and I took a try at the parsnips. Carrots come out fairly easily, but parsnips hold on for dear life and feel like they are cemented into the soil. I dug with fingers and with the bottle opener on a pocket knife I’d brought — and got nowhere. The mother and son didn’t come back. Parsnips 2, people 0.

Stephanie with a hand full of raspberries.

Raspberries were abundant this year and every branch was loaded with clusters of fruit. The ripest ones were purple-black and sweet. You have to be careful picking them because branches have sharp thorns, and you can get scratched up in a hurry — or stuck — if you’re not careful. I heard voices in the nearby raspberry patch and spotted a young couple intent on picking. The young woman had a hand full of ripe berries, but the young man didn’t have as many.

Woman: You just pick em. Not the whole bunch, just the ripe ones.
Man: Oh, then how do you do that?
Woman: One by one.
Man: Ok.
Woman: I must have been a farmer in a past life. I know what to do!
Man: You sure do.

Bally the horse noticed new people around and wandered close to the fence to see what was going on. He got a lot of attention from kids. They all wanted to feed the horse something, and ran around picking anything and everything green and offered that. But Bally was particular and only nibbled at the finest weeds. One little boy was completely enchanted. He plopped down onto the ground and his eyes never left the horse’s face.

Making friends with Bally the horse.

The midday heat was to getting to me and I headed back to the barn to get something cool to drink. Inside tables and chairs were set up and people were eating. One long table along a wall had everybody’s food set out — an interesting hodge-podge of vegetarian salads, a lasagna, pickles of all kinds,  beans, pasta, and brownies. I missed out on mango hot salsa and mini carrot cupcakes. Large coolers held water, lemongrass tea and allspice berry tea (made from plants grown on the farm), and beer was on ice in another cooler. People ate and drank and chatted for a while but by 2 pm everybody was gone with their loot, the last of the farm’s bounty.

So that’s it for the main growing season at Bee Heaven Farm. What remains now is end of season housekeeping, then the land and the farmers take a break for the summer.

Getting a taste of something good.

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