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Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

Earlier in September, I conducted an email interview with farmer Margie Pikarsky about the Oriental Fruit Fly quarantine, and how it impacts the Bee Heaven Farm CSA and the upcoming Redlands GrowFest!

Q: How does this quarantine affect Bee Heaven Farm and the CSA? What are you growing that’s affected?

MP: Luckily, this is just as farmers are gearing up for the start of the winter growing season, there is not much exposure to row crops, and plenty of time to put preventive treatment programs in place before harvesting begins of susceptible crops like squashes, tomatoes and beans. We are starting treatment with Spinosad as soon as we can get our hands on it, beginning the 30-day countdown.

As far as BHF, we’re essentially done with avocado harvest. Carambolas will be dehydrated, seagrapes are already harvested and frozen awaiting delivery, items previously harvested were already delivered. Guavas will be pulped and frozen or dehydrated, allspice berries have been harvested and frozen.

I don’t anticipate much problem with the CSA. I have to take precautions with incoming listed items (they are kept in protected storage, coolers are sealed), offloaded when they’re going to be packed, and packed and transported in a protected manner, in a sealed truck). Listed veggies include squashes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, beans.

Q: How does the quarantine affect the upcoming Redland GrowFest!?

Seedlings and fruiting plants that are currently NOT bearing fruit are not controlled. So we can sell our seedlings with no problem. Fruit trees, as long as they are stripped of any fruit (no matter how tiny), can be sold as well, so GrowFest! will be able to go off with minimal disruption.

In fact, listed items coming in from outside the quarantine area (currently, Health and Happiness Farm, Verde Farm, and Paradise Farms, for example, are outside the QA), can be sold, as long as they are protected. Displays can be protected by using a screened enclosure or other covering (this applies to fruit stands). The screening cannot touch the fruit, and the mesh has to be <4mm. I’m sure we’ll think of creative ways to pre-pack/bag listed items, but remember a lot of things like baby greens and herbs, for example, will not require any special handling.

Q: How long is this quarantine in place?

MP: The quarantine is in place for a minimum of 2 life cycles of the fly. First one is 30 days, second one is 32. If a third is needed, it would probably be 45 days, as their life expectancy lengthens with lower temperatures.

Q: What do you and other growers in the quarantine area have to do?

MP: Everyone within the quarantine area is asked to meet with FDACS OFF eradication program inspectors and enter into a compliance agreement, which spells out what they need to do. There are separate sections for growers (including homeowners), harvesters, packers, shippers, processors, lawn service/tree maintenance, sellers and dealers, charity (gleaners, soup kitchens), etc.

If you are outside the quarantine area, it’s business as usual, except that a) you have to protect any listed product going into or transiting through the quarantine area, you cannot receive listed product grown within the quarantine area without proof of treatment and compliance, and it must arrive fully protected (safely enclosed).

If you are inside the quarantine area, you cannot move listed product off your property unless it has been treated. There are 2 options: a) pre-harvest treatment for 30 days (with no positive finds near you during that time), or b) post-harvest treatment.

Post harvest treatments are limited here. Organic growers essentially have only the pre-harvest treatment option open. Chilling is an option, but unrealistic, except perhaps for carambola. There are a couple of other possibilities. You can consume the items on-site. You can process the items (freeze, dry, cook, grind), and then they are free to move off-farm and out of the quarantine area.

Other options that may be available to non-organic growers may include a combination of cold and fumigation, but it looks like only a fumigation treatment is available for avocados, as they cannot take cold storage in the temps or times required. TREC is looking at some short treatments. If they achieve kills and they can replicate the results, they may be able to approve it.

Q: Where did they find the fruit fly, and when?

MP: The core of the quarantine area is 1.5 miles around the positive finds. They are pretty much within about 1/2 mile of each other, roughly centered around 100-200 Avenues between 180-188 Streets. In these areas, multiple male flies were trapped (the highest something like 45 in 1 day). There were a couple of locations where larva were found. There was a female trapped as well.

In the areas around positive finds, anything on the list is stripped of fruit. The fruit is disposed of in an approved manner that prevents contamination. Traps to catch females are set. Soil surrounding positive finds is drenched with an approved pesticide (there are three, one of which is a Spinosad product approved for use in organic production), and surrounding trees are sprayed with the treatment (which is a bait). Male pheromone traps and female yeast traps re placed in the area. Utility poles are also sprayed up high. The OFF is a strong flyer.

Q: What else do CSA members and farm customers need to know about the OFF?

MP: The biggest single thing I’d say is: unless it’s already processed (jams and jellies, baked in bread, etc) don’t give away fruit, don’t accept fruit from someone else. Don’t say “I’m going to take this because it’s fine. Look, there’s no bugs on it! He’s my friend and I know he takes care of his plants. One will be OK.” No. This fly doesn’t care how well you take care of your plants, and you can’t see the eggs inside the fruit. It has no natural enemies here.

This is ONLY for a limited time. It’s imperative we get rid of this fly. It’s absolutely the worst pest. I’m sure most folks have heard about the Medfly – well, the list [of host plants] for that is maybe 20 lines long. The list for this fly is 13 PAGES long! Every fruit you can imagine is on it, every fruiting vegetable is on it, and many ornamentals too – even Ylang Ylang, for example.

We cannot allow this fly to become established here, because if it does, it will be truly devastating. So everyone tighten their belts for a couple of months and work together to do this.

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This weekend, come meet farmer Rachael Middleton and chef Jon Gambino of Three Sisters Farm, which is located, quite conveniently, across the street from the Fruit and Spice Park. Rachael and Jon are bringing plants and tastes of their farm to GrowFest!

The farmer and chef couple will have an assortment of edible plants for sale, whatever they are able to haul across the street for the weekend. “We have some interesting different fruit trees, and cool tropical roots, like malanga. We have a good variety of heirloom tomato seedlings and some different peppers,” Rachael told me. Besides vegetable seedlings, they’re also offering larger plants as well.

“We have a lot of big stuff that we can’t bring across the street, but we will have a plant list and give a sampling of what our nursery has right now. Since we are an active farm year round, we are always producing root stocks and pups, and have suckers in abundance at the farm. People are welcome to contact us if they are interested in getting plants anytime throughout the growing season,” Rachael said.

Tastes will come mostly from whatever is in season at their organic and biodynamic farm. “We will offer a variety of drinks, including a sorrel drink (it really tastes like Hawaiian Punch). We’ll also have jaboticaba sorbet (and a limited quantity of fresh jaboticaba fruit!).”

Chef Jon recently acquired a wood fire oven, which he has been using to bake fresh bread for his Farm Meals. “The oven is one of our favorite new things this season,” Rachael said. “It’s amazing, and we have been doing a lot of baking at the farm lately because of it. We are going to bring the oven over to the park and bake fresh bread and make pizzas.” Come find out what kind of tropical toppings will grace goodies hot out of the oven at GrowFest!

Three Sisters Farm

If you would love to visit and dine at Three Sisters Farm, chef Jon Gambino offers a Farm Meal every Saturday by reservation only. “The meal begins with a private tour where you get to see everything we are growing on our active, working, natural farm,” Rachael said.  “At the end of the tour, you are seated on our beautiful tropical tiki deck, where if you time your reservation right, you will be able to catch a beautiful view of the sunset.

“The farm meal uses all of our own ingredients (sometimes supplementing with some of the best of what our neighbors have to offer) to create a multi-course gourmet tasting feast. Our ingredients are a wide variety including tropical fruits, veggies you know and love and some you may not know you love yet, tropical roots, and spices.  What Jon does with all those amazing ingredients is equally varied and exciting. He also makes delicious handmade pastas, fantastic breads and pizzas (baked in our wood fire oven, which you can see from the tiki deck).

“The Farm Meal is $85 a person and we sometimes offer a fish option for an additional $15. Don’t worry about not being full, it’s a multi-course (at least 5) feast. Do dress comfortably for walking around on the farm and outdoor dining.  It’s BYOB, no cork fee.”

The next Farm Meal is scheduled for Oct. 26th. This Saturday, Oct. 19th, there is no Farm Meal because of the festival. “We are pretty much a two man (sometimes three) show,” Rachael explained.

For reservations and more information:
Three Sisters Farm
18401 SW 248th St.
Homestead, FL 33031
305-209-8335

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avos-cluster

In August and early September, the stars of Bee Heaven Farm are the shiny green Donnie avocados grown to almost football size. Stroll through the grove even this late in summer and you’ll see many, both on the branches and littering the ground below.

Summertime is a good time to visit fruit growers in Redland, because as you tour their groves, they’ll pick a fruit and let you taste it. So when the newest member of the Extension office, Tropical Fruit Agent Jeff Wasielewski, came to visit, that’s exactly what farmer Margie Pikarsky did. She took him for a walk around her farm, where they paused at different fruit trees, tasted a couple things along the way, and shared stories about the trees’ health and growth. “Visiting smart, forward-thinking growers like Margie is important for me as a learning tool and not just a social visit,” he said. (The UF/Miami-Dade County Extension office shares the latest agriculture information from University of Florida’s researchers with farmers and gardeners in the county. Some of the ways are through workshops, educational materials, field consulatations, and their web site.)

Tropical Fruit Agent Jeff Wasielewski and Margie Pikarsky open up an avocado.

Tropical Fruit Agent Jeff Wasielewski and Margie Pikarsky open up an avocado.

Margie’s pride and joy is the grove of over 90 avocado trees, which she herself planted back in 1996. She and Wasielewski stopped at one tree where she picked up a windfall avocado and handed it to him. It looked ready to eat, so he pulled pruning snips from a case on his belt, and cut open the fruit.

He’s a tall, easy going man with a ready smile and 18 years of tropical fruit experience, and 21 years of horticulture in South Florida. You might already know him from lectures, articles and videos he made for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where he was the Educational Outreach Specialist. He’s developed keen senses and loads of experience when it comes to tropical fruit and plants. All it took was one taste and he said the avocado was a day away from being perfectly ripe.

Further down the row of trees, he noticed a dead branch, which Margie snapped off. “Be careful,” he warned. “A dead branch like that can attract other beetles now suspected of carrying laurel wilt.” Margie explained that she removes dead branches from the trees as soon as she finds them, and trims the trees every year. So far her grove looks healthy, but laurel wilt disease remains a lurking concern.

Laurel wilt is a dangerous avocado disease that appeared in Miami-Dade County a few years ago. It is spread by the red bay ambrosia beetle, which is tinier than a grain of rice. Wasielewski  explained that the beetle burrows into healthy avocados and other trees in the laurel family. “It cultivates a fungus that eventually kills the tree branch by branch by disrupting its vascular system. Signs of the disease are quick branch dieback or tiny holes and sawdust towers where the beetles enter the tree. The tree will die very quickly if infected. Commercial growers are advised to quickly and completely remove the tree and its roots. The removed tree should be burned in place, out of fear of spreading infested wood to other groves and trees. Root removal is necessary because the disease may spread from tree to tree through root grafts,” he told me in an email.

So far there have been over 2000 trees removed due to laurel wilt in commercial groves in Redland, and  growers are worried, and anxious for a cure. When the first tree in a large commercial grove was suspected of having the disease, Extension held a standing room only meeting for growers, informing them of the threat. They continue to provide updated information on their website and with occasional meetings. (Yes, backyard trees in town are also at risk. Find info for homeowners at Save The Guac web site.)

Jeff and Margie

Jeff and Margie

As Tropical Fruit Agent, one of Wasielewski’s goals is to inform avocado growers of new research on combating laurel wilt. “It’s important that I am on the cutting edge of what is going on in the tropical fruit world,” he said. University of Florida has done tests, and complied a list of pesticides that will kill the ambrosia beetle. Unfortunately, none of them can be used in an organic grove. Local organic growers are pressuring the scientists to test substances approved for use in organic production.

Margie expressed her frustration to Wasielewski at the current lack of effective organic options. He said he would keep her informed as to new research into alternative treatments. “I want growers to have options as far as doing things in an environmentally friendly way. I let them know their options and the value of each option. Growers are then free to make a choice on how they want to proceed, but only if they are armed with new knowledge and multiple options,” he told me in an email.

For now, it’s wait and see how bad laurel wilt gets in Redland, and how quickly research can come up with solutions that all growers can use. Wasielewski is an important addition to the Extension office during a critical time for tropical fruit growers.

As for Bee Heaven Farm, over the years Margie has accumulated a wide variety of other tropical fruit trees, tucked away here and there among the vegetable beds. Sapodilla, carambola, longan, mango, and bananas are planted in various spots on her five acre farm. If her avocado trees have to go, she’ll plant different fruit trees and more vegetables, she once told me. But until then, she and other growers will put up a fight to save their groves.

Got a question about tropical fruit? Contact Jeff Wasielewski at 305-248-3311, ext. 227 or email at jwasielewski@ufl.edu .

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Margie Pikarsky with bunches of parsnips from Bee Heaven Farm.

Local food writer Ellen Kanner writes a blog about food on Huffington Post. As part of the “Who Grows Our Food” series of farmer profiles, today’s post is about one of our best-known local growers, Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm. Check it out here:

Who Grows Our Food: Margie Pikarsky, Bee Heaven Farm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-kanner/who-grows-our-food-margie_b_1671108.html

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Katie Edwards

MW: How to keep the land in agriculture? The farmer thinks that the land was your bank, that’s your retirement fund.

KE: I’d rather see us focus, before we start looking out, start looking in and focus more on reinvestment. Even in the city of Homestead there are things that we can be doing for energized growth. I think, you take the lazy approach and say Ok you know what, I don’t like what I drew on that piece of paper, scratch, give me a new one. That’s the mentality. It’s so much easier.

MW: So you’re saying the urban sprawl is not economically viable any more?

KE: I don’t think it ever was. I don’t think it ever was. I don’t think it makes sense to build up out of there. I don’t think we should vilify farmers for the predicament that they’re in. I don’t think that they created it That’s the plot in life God gave them, is they’ve got land that has to be planted, and they’ve got to be able to take out money to sell their crops, to buy their seed, their inputs, their fuel at the beginning of the season, and what do they do, they go to the bank. Pre-NAFTA they were making money and they didn’t have these issues. And all of sudden, it’s like everything happened. We convert row crop land to nurseries, and we end up that there are 1200 nurseries in Miami-Dade County, that’s too many. And then what happens? We’ve got water restrictions and people aren’t buying plants. And then we have a recession and housing market, there’s nothing to landscape. People would rather pay off bills rather than landscape or re-sod their homes. Most of the nurseries are on small parcels. They can’t put a subdivision in there. So what do the growers do? They are abandoning, they’re walking away from their properties saying I can’t make it, sorry. That’s the problem. Drive around Redland and see how many nurseries there are with for sale signs up, vacant ground covering those lands there. They can’t afford to maintain them. That’s the problem I’ve encountered.

MW: How does Farm Bureau speak for the small guy? Or is Farm Bureau only for the big guys?

KE: I’ve got quite a lot of small growers [as members]. A lot of these guys are new farmers, some are generational growers, but some are completely new to the business. We’re just trying to find ways trying to make everyone happy, because in my industry the people that I represent are so diverse, ethnically, gender-wise, age, income and what they grow. You’re going to have some issues that collectively we all agree on, but everyone needs a different type of help and assistance. What my big farmers need help with are immigration issues, so most of their issues are federal. With the smaller farmers need mostly are county, they want help with their certificate of occupancy at farmers markets, they want help with ag assessment, they want help marketing, they want help making inroads talking with chefs.

MW: In other communities you have farmers communicating with chefs. Food writers are writing about eating local food. Would be great if more restaurants sourced locally.

KE: Absolutely! You help promote, you do incentives, you provide more awareness and recognition like for programs like Redland Raised. And the farmers have the chance to be entrepreneurs, to adapt and to be creative. Because if we’re going to be adaptive in the industry and keep looking for new and emerging markets, we can’t have the state, or most oftentimes the county saying, no you can’t do this. With the winery for example, I helped Peter Schnebly with the winery ordinance. Originally, that was illegal. And all the residents in the Redland were fighting against it saying it will be disruptive, it’s not going to do anything for us, and now they all love it. And that was the whole thing, trying to find a way to get creative. You have to have common sense. You have to give growers enough flexibility to be able to be entrepreneurs, to be creative and to stay in business.

MW: What issues come up at fundraisers?

KE: Each population has its issues. The issues in Sweetwater aren’t the same as the issues in Homestead or the Redland. And you talk and you learn. Part of what I do is try to bring people together, find commonalities, and then figure, where we can compromise and where can we get stuff done.

One of the biggest issues in West Kendall is dealing with the homeowners associations. With the huge rate of foreclosures and trying to strike a balance between the rights of the condo association, the rights of the homeowner, the rights of the bank that actually has title when someone has to walk away from the mortgage. How do you look at it as a human being, but what does the law say? You can’t keep asking private citizens to bear more of the brunt of the economic crisis when it comes to the HOAs and the foreclosures.

The other issue that’s important to me is property tax reform. It’s very expensive to be a homeowner in Miami-Dade County. When I began doing comparisons online, looking at the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers website, I saw the complete inequities in what we’re paying but we’re all sharing the same services. Let’s say I pay 2 thousand dollars a year in property taxes, my neighbor next door pays less because they bought their home in 1998, that to me is not fair. We’ve got to figure out something holistically that provides people an opportunity to share in government services that’s not based on some fictitious value, which is to me all these fair market values are, it’s just whatever the market is. I’m willing to put it out there and tell people we’ve got to have a serious conversation on how to fix this and make it at least equitable and fair for all of Floridians.

When I come back from Tallahassee I’m still going to go in to the Royal Palm Diner, and I’m still gonna have to face these people who are going to grill me and say, why did you sell out, why did you do this? I want to be able to still be Katie and still be a member of this community and have my name in good standing. I don’t understand how anybody could ever lose sight of the fact that they are going up there not for themselves but for other people. And these people, they’re giving you their vote, which is the most powerful thing they could ever give you. If someone says, I can’t give you a donation, I say that’s fine, what I really need is your vote. The money is great but it can only go so far, though. When people come to you and they say, when you get elected I want you to help me work on these projects, I’m like, absolutely. You have to give them an open door, you have to be accessible.

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Several months ago, I had the chance to interview Katie Edwards. She is running for State Representative, District 119, and is currently the executive director of Farm Bureau. Katie is quite familiar with issues that affect growers in South Dade; and since I blog about growers, our interview focused on agricultural issues.

I have not contacted or interviewed her opponents Frank Artiles, Nestor A. Iglesias, and Graziella Renee Denny. I did  look at their web sites to see where they stand on the issues. Iglesias doesn’t have one. Denny’s web site is completely blank. And Artiles is concerned about the economy, jobs, property tax issues, education, healthcare — everything under the sun except local ag! Do any of these candidates know where their food comes from? Do they care about who grows their food? It appears that only Katie does.

Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday November 2nd!

MW: What does Farm Bureau do?

KE: Farm Bureau is a membership organization. We have about 4 thousand members,  about 2100 who are actively engaged in farm production. All of the vegetable farmers are FB members. About 80 percent of the nursery growers are Farm Bureau members. Most of the tropical fruit growers I represent, apiaries or beekeepers, and aquaculture. That would be everything from koi and Everglades ciclid to the Everglades alligator farms. So what we do represent in terms of membership is incredibly diverse. Most of our membership lives here in South Miami-Dade County.

MW: Tell me about your job with Farm Bureau.

KE: I’ve worked with Farm Bureau  for about seven years now, and I reach out to politicians and like to get them down here so that they can fully appreciate the impact of their decisions. I want them to remember the nursery growers and farmers down in Homestead, and to think about those family farmers when they vote on a bill.

One thing very important to Farm Bureau and to me is helping educate policy makers so that there is an appreciation for agriculture, the state’s leading industry, and also for them to recognize that within their own county we’re the ones producing the food. So you have to look at it very holistically and reach out to the people outside of our borders.

MW: There’s been a lot in the local media about the freeze. How have you been putting a face to the farmer, and what kind of feedback have you gotten?

Katie Edwards

KE: When people think about a freeze and agriculture, people think, how is this going to impact the price of orange juice? Consumers don’t realize the amount of capital that the grower already has in the ground from the very moment that seed is sown. You’ve got your land rent, you’ve got your labor expenses, so when a freeze comes and wipes out and devastates your crop, you still have expenses that you can’t recover and pass along.

Sometimes it’s a race against time because every season you’re getting essentially a four-month window to make make enough money to cover your expenses, and then maybe offset money that you lost last year. And the last couple of seasons we’ve had a very difficult time trying to keep up with fertilizer and fuel expenses.

The other thing is going forward, this freeze helps us remember how important American agriculture is. If we don’t have a safe domestic food supply that can produce for all of us during the winter months, then we’re dependent on foreign countries.

MW: Are there any subsidies for growers here in Florida?

KE: The subsidies are for primarily commodities. Just so you understand, the stuff we grow here is not subsidized. So 97 percent of what Florida produces is not subsidized, maybe some peanuts and a little bit of tobacco and some cotton in the Panhandle, which accounts for 3 percent. But everything that we grow down here are not commodities. Like the old saying, we’re price takers not price makers.

MW: What’s your position on the UDB?

KE: When I go downtown and speak [before the county commission], I choose my battles carefully and I choose them wisely, because if I’m always going downtown against something, you lose credibility very quickly. I’ve seen that happen to people in this area. But with the UDB, we’re not one of the organizations that’s out there in bed with the developers saying we want to have more projects. I mean the Parkland project scares us, because if I lose 900 acres of agricultural land, that’s the chink in the chain. It’s like, you can get one, it can go right after that. And what about the property rights of the guy — we all have property rights — what about the property rights of the guy next to him? Doesn’t he have the right to keep farming without being a nuisance to homeowners and all the ancillary issues that goes along with that? He made an investment, he wants to continue farming. I have to protect his rights too.

I think we can all agree that we want to have agriculture in Southwest Miami-Dade County. I don’t think there’s anybody that says, I don’t want agriculture here. And if they do, I’d be very surprised. But I think a common goal — and I like to look at the commonalities — we all want to have agriculture here in Miami-Dade. So I look at it and say ok, take the UDB issue off the table, and let’s spend our time, our resources, our capital, talking about what we can all do to help make sure that farmers aren’t forced to make the difficult decision to then have to sell to the developer. That’s the whole crux of the problem.

Tell me what you’re doing to help the local farmers. I want to do my own reality TV show and call it Do You Want To Be A Farmer, and invite all these people to come down here. I’m going to say to them, you go to the bank, you go to farm credit, take out a loan for 10 million dollars, I want to see you make a buck. They wouldn’t know what end was up and even how to turn a damn tractor! I’ve said that for years, that’s what I’m up against. I’m losing farmers to foreign competition and you guys aren’t helping the farmers out.

(To be continued)

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Farmer Margie was recently interviewed by Niala Boodhoo of WLRN/Miami Herald about the economic impact of last month’s freeze. Two reports originally aired on WLRN last week, and the second one is by reporter Christine DiMattei.

If you weren’t lucky enough to catch them on the radio, you can listen to and/or download them from the Miami Herald web site. Scroll down the page and look for these headlines:

02/20 FBR – South Dade farmers and the freeze

02/23 Two-week cold snap brings season of worry to local farmers

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