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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.

GF-wagon

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.

GF-bananas

Bananas and plantains at Going Bananas

GF-bees

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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Start your gardens!

GrowFest-logo-2

Saturday October 19 and Sunday October 20, 2013 
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

GrowFest! 2013 is right around the corner, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to get your seedlings, companion plants and fruit trees for your fall garden. Farmer Margie Pikarsky and her staff have been hard at work growing heirloom tomato starts and other baby plants for the event.

Bee Heaven Farm will offer over 80 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings, several varieties of eggplant, hot peppers, basil, arugula, chard, kale, Asian greens and perennial herbs like garlic chives, curryleaf, and lemongrass. Other vendors will have fruit trees, native and companion plants to promote beneficial insect habitat, and gardening supplies. SNAP/EBT dollars can be used for buying veggie seeds and seedlings. And those dollars will stretch twice as far, courtesy of Urban Oasis Project/Wholesome Wave Foundation’s double-value program, to get those gardens growing!

Browsing through a sea of seedlings in the heirloom tomato section. (GrowFest! 2012)

Browsing through a sea of seedlings in the heirloom tomato section. (GrowFest! 2012)

Questions about growing? Answers here for backyard growers, urban farmers, small and big farms. The UF/Miami- Dade County Extension Office is our local source for growing information tailored to our subtropical South Florida climate. Check out their presentations and demos. There will be special emphasis on organic and environmentally friendly practices, and establishing building blocks for healthy eating.

Want to learn how to prepare healthy food and kid-friendly snacks? See local chefs use fresh local ingredients to create fun and tasty dishes, school lunches, and snacks. Pick up copies of three awesome books all about local foods — Local Flavor: Recipes Raised in the Florida Redland — Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs and Artisans — Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.

Melissa Contreras, author of Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening.

Melissa Contreras, author of Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening.

Enjoy fresh, great food!  Tired of that same old fair food? We’ll have a great selection of healthy foods showcasing locally-grown Fresh From Florida and Redland Raised ingredients. Local cottage food and artisanal producers will share their stories and sell their goods.

Explore the park!  The only tropical botanical garden and public park of its kind in the U.S., the Redland Fruit & Spice Park hosts over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts and edible plants. If you’ve ever been to the park, you know what a nice place it is to visit and learn about the amazing variety of edible plants you can grow in South Florida.

For sponsorship opportunities, contact Margie at GrowFest@beeheavenfarm.com

Want to be a vendor or exhibitor?
Click here for GrowFest! 2013 vendor application.

Location:
Redland Fruit & Spice Park 
24801 SW 187th Avenue, Redland, FL 
(corner of Coconut Palm Drive & Redland Road)

Admission:
$8 advance purchase 
$10 at the gate 
children under 12 free
Includes raffle tickets for a chance at some great door prizes!

The heart of the matter was found at the Bee Heaven Farm tents.

The heart of the matter was found at the Bee Heaven Farm tents. (GrowFest! 2012)

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GrowFest! 2013

GrowFest-logo-2

October 19-20, 2013
10:00 am – 5:00 pm

A Bee Heaven Farm ~ Redland Organics Event

If you attended the inaugural GrowFest! event last fall, you were one of the hundreds who had a great time browsing for plants, enjoying local food and drinks, and relaxing to sounds of local musicians. Farmer Margie received lots of positive feedback, and with over 900 attending, it was an unqualified success. Now GrowFest! is back for a second year, just in time for planting season.

The stars of the event are undeniably all the heirloom tomato starts that Farmer Margie is famous for. Come pick up all the varieties you love. Lots of other growers will be there also, to provide plants and knowhow for your gardening success.

Grow Fest! is about connecting the dots between farms/gardens and your dinner table. It’s also about providing the knowledge and materials to grow, forage, buy, prepare, and eat good, local, seasonal food.

By engaging, encouraging and enabling visitors about gardening, and giving them the tools to grow some of their own food, you’ll gain a better appreciation of what it takes for farmers to produce the food we all eat, and whet your appetite for the best and freshest produce.

This year’s event will be held, once again, at the Redland Fruit and Spice Park. It’s the perfect venue, as the park hosts over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts and edible plants. It’s the only tropical botanical garden and public park of its kind in the country. Take some time to explore all its nooks and crannies. If you’ve never been to the park, this is the time to visit. Redland is the heart of our local agricultural production, so what better place to kick off the winter growing season in South Florida!

This year’s GrowFest! will benefit our own locally-based Urban Oasis Project. Door prizes will be raffled off.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Admission:
$10/$8 in advance (coming soon), children under 12 free
Military families free via VetTix (coming soon)

Location:
Redland Fruit & Spice Park
24801 SW 187th Avenue
(corner of Coconut Palm Drive & Redland Road)
Redland, FL

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Here’s a look back, the first of a series, of Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics at Pinecrest Farmers Market this winter. Their last day was April 28th, 2013, and now the market season is over for them until fall. Farmer Margie, husband Nick, and their hard working crew will be back in December. Until then, enjoy happy memories of mornings at market browsing for ridiculously fresh local fruits and veggies. The following pictures were taken on December 2, 2012.

margie-pfm-12-2

Farmer Margie weighs tomatoes.

market-pfm-12-2

Nick (with straw hat) helping a customer.

nicole-pfm-12-2

Nicole holding sugar cane.

lettuce-pfm-12-2

Red lettuce looks airbrushed.

green-pfm-12-2

honey-pfm-12-2

hugh-pfm-12-2

shopper-pfm-12-2

tomatoes-pfm-12-2

kale-pfm-12-2

shnoz-pfm-12-2

Nose-y eggplants.

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Three vendors at the Brownsville Farmers Market offer Argentinean empanadas, fresh local and organic produce from Urban Oasis Project, and Tommie's Gourmet Comfort Food.

Three vendors at the Brownsville Farmers Market offer Argentine empanadas, fresh local and organic produce from Urban Oasis Project, and Tommie’s Gourmet Comfort Food.

Brownsville Farmers Market is small, a clutch of three tents set up in the entrance plaza of the Jesse Trice Community Health Center. But this is where Melissa Contreras of the Urban Oasis Project non-profit, and her assistants, set up shop this season, selling fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables to the underserved community nearby.

The market is a welcome patch of green in an area not known for healthy eats. The afternoon I came to visit, the place was bustling with staffers and clients of the health center. I had just missed the lunch rush, but got swept up in the cheerful chaos of a group of women leaving a wellness class. They sampled bits of fruit and grabbed up cauliflower picked just 24 hours earlier. Melissa greeted many people by name and cheerfully answered questions. The market accepts EBT and offers matching funds up to $20. One man had a $10 matching token burning a hole in his pocket, which he had received from the center for reaching a health milestone. He carefully chose two golden papayas, bunches of fresh herbs, and a bag of Shawnee’s Green Thumb spirulina popcorn as a treat.

Diverse families come to shop for fresh produce they can't get anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Diverse families come to shop for fresh produce they can’t get anywhere else in the neighborhood.

A woman who comes every week to shop for her family of eight children left with three large boxes of vegetables and a potted African Basil plant the size of a shrub. “This is the only place in Brownsville where she can get vegetables to feed her family,” Melissa said. “This is a food desert.” She explained that a food desert is an area where its residents do not have access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. The residents have to shop at small neighborhood markets that don’t stock much by way of fresh produce.

The Brownsville market moved around and changed names a bit. Originally it was known as the Liberty City market located at the TACOLCY Center. Because of permit issues, it moved to the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, then moved again to this current location and changed names. Last year, the market was funded by grants from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative, a federal grant administered by the county’s Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade. “This year, we are purely self-funded,” Melissa explained,”Our SNAP matching funds, which are a separate program, are from Wholesome Wave, as they are for all of our markets.”

Melissa Contreras, John Lewis (Sistrunk and PATCH market), Sharon Yeago (consultant), Brett Johnson and Rachelle Lawson-Norwood from PATCH market.

Left to right: Melissa Contreras, John Lewis (Sistrunk and PATCH markets), Sharon Yeago (market consultant), Brett Johnson and Rachelle Lawson-Norwood from PATCH market.

As luck would have it, I got to meet Sharon Yeago, a local food activist and farmers market consultant, who was visiting that afternoon. She was accompanied by representatives of two new farmers markets in Dania Beach (PATCH) and Sistrunk, and stopped to chat for a moment. Sharon was instrumental in helping Urban Oasis get grants for the Brownsville market, and had helped get funding for four other new farmers markets in Miami-Dade. For the past year, Sharon’s been working in Broward to develop new markets through TOUCH (Transforming Our Community’s Health) Broward, a program of the Broward Regional Health Planning Council that also helps underserved residents get access to healthy food.

The Brownsville market is seasonal and will close in two weeks on April 17, following the winter growing season here. It will reopen sometime in fall. After the market closes, the mother of eight and other regulars will have to travel quite a bit further to shop at the next nearest local-grower-supported market. (That would be the Upper Eastside Farmers Market on 66 St. and Biscayne Blvd. It’s also run by Urban Oasis, and is open year round.) But at least there is another market that she can go to.

It took a lot of hard work and determination on the part of Brownsville market organizers to navigate their way through permit and zoning challenges, and to gather funding to get started. But the people of Urban Oasis have proved that it can be done, again and again, despite the odds. Hopefully Miami-Dade County can streamline the process to allow more farmers markets with less governmental difficulties. There aren’t that many sources of fresh produce in the food desert, yet the need is so great.

Brownsville Farmers Market at Jesse Trice Community Health Center
5361 NW 22nd Ave.
Miami FL 33142
Wednesdays from 11 am -2 pm
Seasonal, open through April 17, 2013 (resumes in Fall)

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