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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.

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Farmer Margie weighs tomatoes.

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Nick (with straw hat) helping a customer.

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Nicole holding sugar cane.

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Red lettuce looks airbrushed.

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Nose-y eggplants.

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With love and kale

ghost-bookReaders may know her as the Edgy Veggie columnist for the Miami Herald, or the Meatless Monday columnist for the Huffington Post. Ellen Kanner, an award-winning food writer, launched her first book to a packed house at Books & Books recently. Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith & What to Eat for Dinner is a thoughtful, cheerful collection of recipes and the stories behind them, written with gentle wit and sensual musings on life, love and food.

The hungry ghost of the title is a Taoist concept, and Ellen uses it to refer to anyone who might be feeling hungry for food, meaning, connection or unconditional love. For Ellen, cooking food and serving it to her friends and family is a way of expressing that love and quelling those ghosts. “I write about the value of community,” Ellen said at the book signing presented by Slow Food Miami. “Food brings us together in many ways. We are all here together in a great global stew. We depend on each other.”

Author Ellen Kanner

Author Ellen Kanner

Ellen is not shy with the flavors of her dishes. She revels in creating rich and complex blends. Her recipes are inspired by exotic corners of the world. In her hands, familiar vegetables don’t taste so ordinary anymore. “There’s a great big world out there and it’s all worth tasting,” Ellen said.

Moroccan Carrot Salad is a zippy orange slaw with hits of cumin, cayenne and lemon. Summer Tomato Salad is spiced with za’atar. Red Lentil Soup fairly dances with Indian notes of coriander, turmeric and red pepper flakes. Earthy cardomom might be her favorite spice. “Slightly honeyed, slightly dusky — it struck a low note, back in the throat, deep in the viscera. It seemed to dirty-dance with our tongues.” Ellen writes poetically and sensually about flavors, textures and feelings. Don’t you dare snarf down a meal — enjoy! “Food is like foreplay, a pleasure in and of itself, one you don’t want to rush. Allow yourself to get into the mood,” she wrote. (She even tells the story of an orgy she hosted for her friends at the tender age of 15. You can read about it on page 35.)

The dessert table loaded with platters of seed cake, vegan chocolate cake, orange blossom cookies and multifaith sweetness and light sugarplums.

The dessert table was loaded with platters of seed cake, vegan chocolate cake, orange blossom cookies, and multifaith sweetness and light sugarplums.

Yet as adventurous as the recipes might get, Ellen is partial to home grown and praised the local food scene. More farmers markets are closing the gap between grower and consumer, and Slow Food Miami’s school gardens encourage kids to get their hands dirty. “Grow your own food,” Ellen suggested to a reader in the audience, “even if it’s a pot of herbs on the windowsill. Get a real appreciation of what it takes to grow real food.”

Organic growers Gabriele Marewski ad Norman Brooks

Organic growers Gabriele Marewski ad Norman Brooks

Friends and fans swooned and praised Ellen, who cheerfully signed books and posed for pictures. A number of local food luminaries were in there: organic farmer Gabriele Marewski, organic grower Norman Brooks, food writer Trina Sargalski, and a fair number of Slow Food Miami members, among others.

A table was loaded with desserts baked by Slow Food members, from recipes from the book. Local chef Ariana Kumpis brought seed cake, loaded with chia and flax seeds, scented with anise. Soft orange blossom cookies were perfumed with orange water and studded with pine nuts. Moist and richly flavored vegan chocolate cake disappeared quickly. “Love transforms even the simplest dish. It makes our inner light shine.” For a happy moment, hungry ghosts were sated with love of the edible kind.

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Nick and Margie Pikarsy with Roger Blanco

Nick and Margie Pikarsy with Roger Blanco

A belated shout-out to all the hard working people of Fruit and Spice Park who helped make GrowFest! happen. Here’s Farmer Margie with her husband Nick with Roger Blanco, a park staffer who was most helpful in setting things up for the event. The farmers had a chance to hang out with him at the park’s Redland Fish Fry back in November.

If you’ve never been to the park, go! It’s a wonderful place to wander around and look at their extensive collection of tropical and exotic edible plants. Even the name, Fruit and Spice, conjures up someplace distant and adventurous. Or taste the local  flavors of Redland at the park’s Mango Cafe, open from 11-4 seven days a week. Try the Fruit Sampler, made from seasonal ripe fruit straight from the park. How much more locavore can you get?

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(part 1 of 2 parts)

GrowFest! was the place to be for plant lovers last weekend! Over 850 adults, plus lots of kids, came to the first-ever event held at the Fruit and Spice Park in Redland. Festival organizer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm was thrilled with the turnout. “It was an unqualified success!” she exclaimed. Over 500 visited just on Saturday alone, exceeding her expectations. She promised that GrowFest will be an annual event at the Park.

(L to R): Margie Pikarsky, Nick Pikarsky and Louise King of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association

GrowFest! was a grassroots fundraiser for Florida Organic Growers (FOG), which received money from the gate, as well as proceeds from sales of juice and water at their tent. “We raised over $900 for FOG from ticket and raffle sales,” Margie told me. Executive director Marty Mesh was at the event, manning their tent, and answering questions at the screening of their documentary “What’s Organic About Organic” on both days. If you missed your chance see the movie or buy a copy of the DVD, you can order it from the filmmmaker’s web site. “FOG is the non-profit that certifies organic growers in Florida, and also provides education and outreach to growers, consumers, and policy makers,” Marty explained.

Marty Mesh poured local Lakewood Organics juices at the FOG tent.

The heart of GrowFest! was all about plants. And there were all kinds to choose from — vegetable seedlings, potted herbs, banana plants and avocado trees, and more. On Saturday morning, I volunteered at the Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics tent, and found myself surrounded by baby plants. Long tables were loaded with over 80 varieties of organic heirloom tomato seedlings, several varieties of eggplant, hot peppers, arugula, nasturtiums, Asian greens and perennial herbs like garlic chives, curryleaf, aloe and lemongrass. Farm helper Victor and his wife Ish, and volunteers Nicole and Holly were also there to assist.

Volunteers at the Bee Heaven Farm tent (L to R): Holly Victor, Ish and Nicole.

Lots of people came to buy seedlings, and it was fun talking to them about their gardens. Most were regulars from past seasons who knew exactly what they wanted. The very first shopper was a tall man with a cart who loaded up with over two dozen plants. He said he saved seeds from his tomatoes from the year before, and was back this year to try new varieties. Soon after, Melodee Rodriguez, a dedicated mom who is in charge of the edible garden at Coconut Grove Elementary School, came with a checklist of vegetables and herbs for her school’s garden, which had been put in by Slow Food Miami three years before.

La Diva herself, Laura Lafata, with heirloom tomato seedlings.

Two other growers also had their plants for sale at the Bee Heaven area. Arturo Gonzalez of Sunshine Organic Farms was selling three varieties of avocado trees — Donnie, Simmonds and Catalina. (His farm provided grape tomatoes and a variety of vegetables for the Bee Heaven Farm CSA last season.) Organic growers Bill and Thi Squire provided lots of napa cabbage and two kinds of bok choy seedlings.

The event’s poster child Beth Dunlop came to pick out several kinds of black tomatoes.

In a big blue tent by the front of the park, Master Gardeners from Miami-Dade Extension were on hand to answer gardeners’ questions about plant problems. Other staffers gave a demo on how to use rain barrels, and the 4-H Kids Zone was set up where kids could play and learn about plants. The Dade County Farm Bureau tent did fun things with kids, based on Ag in the Classroom materials.

Kids hanging out at the Farm Bureau tent.

The villain of the event was the exotic and invasive Giant African Land Snail (GALS). The ravenous creatures are a serious threat because they’ll eat almost any kind of plant, and even gnaw on the stucco on your house. Several people from the state Division of Plant Industry were on hand with empty shells to examine (no live snails!), and had lots of information about the imported pest. A fully grown snail shell was quite pretty, smooth and shiny with brown and white stripes, and was almost the length of my hand. Don’t think of touching live GALS without gloves on because they can carry meningitis and a parasite called rat lungworm. If you see a GALS in your yard, call 888-397-1517 to report it. Over 78,000 GALS have been caught just in the past year.

DPI Ag Tech Omar Garcia holds up the shell of a fully grown Giant African Land Snail. Be on the lookout!

Ann Schmidt (left), the hardest-working volunteer of them all, at the front gate.

 

Mike Moskos (left) volunteering at the entrance table.

Fruit and Spice Park manager Chris Rollins (center) answered visitors’ questions about tropical fruits.

 

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Arturo Gonzalez (wearing blue hat) points out a double row of Italian basil and sage growing among rows of tomatoes.

Good local food abounds in Redland, but you have to know where to look for it. One place is Margarita’s farm stand located on Krome Avenue. Earlier in the growing season, brother and sister owners Arturo and Maggie Gonzalez invited farmer Margie and her hard working crew for a tour of Sunshine Organic Farm, located right behind the stand, and for a completely locavore lunch.

The farm is certified organic, and Arturo has been growing heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables for several years. He was selling his vegetables at the stand, along with other locally grown produce and herbs.

Before we lunched, Arturo gave us a brief tour of his five acre field. Long rows of grape tomatoes, hanging in heavy clusters, stretched endlessly toward the back of his property. “All the tomatoes came in at the same time and ripened overnight,” Arturo complained. The vines produced more than he could sell, and a heap of rotten fruit lay on the ground. Abundance, thy name is tomato!

Farm intern Erinn kicked off her sandals and stomped around on the mess of overripe grape tomatoes. Squish squish!

Several rows of shaggy vines were loaded down heavily with colorful heirloom tomatoes — green zebra, yellow taxi, gold nugget, black cherry, and yellow cherry, to name varieties I recognized. In between rows of tomatoes grew double rows of basil and sage, both blooming with the sweetest aroma. Nearby were sweet long peppers, and those outrageous globular lavender and white eggplant with the romantic name of Rosa Bianca.

Madeleine chopped up frozen guanabana to make drinks for the guests.

After the tour, we gathered under a breezy overhang at the back of the farm stand. Madeleine, who works at the stand making batidos (fruits shakes) and juices, pulled out frozen chunks of guanabana (soursop), and made a thick white fruit drink in the blender with some added sugar and water. It was my first sip of guanabana (and I have no excuse why I waited so long to try it). It tasted a bit like banana, definitely not sour, certainly delicious.

Marinated fried tilapia waiting to get eaten. They didn’t have too wait long.

Nearby, a deep fryer full of vegetable oil heated up. On a table beside it was a large steel pan heaped with cleaned whole tilapia, which Arturo had marinated overnight with pepper and other spices. He gently eased fish one at a time into bubbling hot oil where they would swim until they turned a golden brown. He had sourced the fish from an aquaculture farm he discovered near Okeechobee.

Arturo offered Margie his heirloom tomato salad.

As the fish cooked, Arturo tossed fresh mild watercress grown by “the old Cuban guy down the road” with spring onion slices for a simple salad dressed lightly with olive oil, white vinegar and salt. “When I eat fried fish I gotta have a salad,” he said, making another one. He cut up a variety of different colored tomatoes picked at the peak of ripeness from the field just steps away. They were also dressed with just the right amount of oil, vinegar and salt. In the farm stand kitchen, Maggie made twice-cooked crispy tostones, fried patties made from locally grown plantains and brought them out piping hot, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Erinn enjoyed the tilapia.

Farm intern Marsha dug in to the tostones.

As Arturo and Maggie cooked, we rounded up a collection of mismatched plastic outdoor chairs, and gathered in a semi-circle near the fryer. This was rustic dining at its best. We ate from paper boats on our laps, using fingers to pick at the fish, stabbed at salads with plastic forks. The fish was cooked to perfection, its white sweet flesh moist and tender, fried skin and fins golden brown and crispy crunchy. Dessert was thick slices of queso blanco (farmer’s cheese) topped with slabs of guava paste, maybe the only two things that weren’t local, but we quickly forgave that. The meal was fresh, simply and quickly prepared, and the most delicious thing I had eaten in a long time.

Margarita brought out a simple dessert made with cheese and guava.

Who needed overpriced craziness of SoBe dining when we had a fresh, delicious meal at our own locavore “pop up cafe” located near a busy country road, deep in the heart of where food comes from. As cool spring breezes whispered of new growth and possibilities, Arturo shared a dream of putting in water tanks and growing tilapia and watercress. Selling fried fish meals could come soon after that, permitted under a county ordinance passed last year. Hopefully by next winter’s growing season, locavores could drive down to the farm stand to buy heirloom tomatoes, and stay for a batido or a bite of fresh tilapia, relaxing at a shaded picnic bench. “Eat local and keep a family farmer in business,” somebody in our group said. Arturo laughed with delight. Yes, it’s really that simple.

Margarita’s Fruits & Vegetables
15585 SW 177th Ave. (Krome Ave.)
Redland FL 33187
305-233-7793
Open 7 days a week, 9 am to 6 pm. Open all year. 

Margie crunched down on fried fish fins.

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You just had to say MMMM at the annual Tropical Brunch that Les Dames d’Escoffier held recently at the lushly landscaped Schnebley Redland’s Winery. Celebrating local agriculture was the theme this year, and there was quite the assortment of fresh vegetables at the salad table. The highlights were large colorful heirloom tomatoes from Teena’s Pride, and a variety of edible flowers along with small heirloom tomatoes from Paradise Farms.

Colorful heirloom tomatoes and edible flowers from Paradise Farms.

Author Carole Kotkin with a copy of her cookbook MMMMiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.

Several dishes were taken from MMMMiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes, a cookbook authored by food writer Carole Kotkin. She held court by the gazpacho table, where you could get a cup of the chilled soup that included Florida oranges as one of the main ingredients.

Shrimp citrus ceviche.

Another tasty dish was the Shrimp Citrus Ceviche. In Carole’s book the recipe called for scallops, but it worked well with shrimp. Also featured was Tropical Couscous Salad, flavored with orange juice and studded with bits of ripe papaya.

Winery owner Peter Schnebley and Dame Ariana Kumpis

La Diva and DJ Nevah Late dig in.

Maggie Sibley looks forward to sinking her teeth into fresh salad.

Sink your teeth into Guava Glazed BBQ Ribs served by Lucy Duran. Chef Adri Garcia was everywhere with a helping hand.

Hard working students from MAST Academy made and served pancakes.

Students from Robert Morgan Educational Center made omlets under the watchful eye of Chef Tony Staravaggi.

Chef Cathy Lucas (center) at the dessert table with her students.

At the dessert table, I located another goody from MMMMiami. The Roasted Plantain Cake with Toasted Coconut Topping tasted like super intense banana bread, and who can go wrong with coconut? But biscotti baked by president Ariana Kumpis stole my heart. They were light and crispy, and studded with bits of tart red fruit. She caught me red handed as I wrapped a handful in a napkin to take home.

So many treasures, so little time!

The heart of the brunch was the lavish silent auction. So many amazing things were available. I saw bottles of wine, gourmet baskets, golden serving dishes, Breville small kitchen appliances, and even jewelry to bid on. Money raised by the auction will help fund nutrition and cooking education for local kids, and support school vegetable gardens.

Leticia De Mello Bueno of Gastronomisti, and Annush Fernandez, lifestyle and (occasionally food) blogger.

The large chickee hut was full of contented guests, and I’m guessing at least 200 attended. I had fun meeting old friends and making new ones. And, I got my copy of the cookbook signed by both Carole and Ariana (she has a recipe for ajiaco). Members of Les Dames worked for months to make the event a success. Believe the buzz, the event is that that good.

(MMMMiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes was published in 1998, and is unfortunately out of print. There are a few used copies available online, but you’ll have to search for them. Carole said a paperback edition might be released next year, maybe.)

Sheah Rarback and Lance Tucker danced to the easy tunes of Jukebox Joe Tunon.

Le menu

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*** Part Two of two ***

McArthur “genius prize” winner Will Allen spoke about his work in urban farming on a recent book tour. Here is part two, about his influence on a local non-profit.

Will Allen spoke at a recent tour of his new book, The Good Food Revolution.

In the audience were a number of people deeply involved in our fledgling local food movement. Among them were Melissa Contreras and Art Friedrich of Urban Oasis Project, a non-profit that plants food gardens and runs farmers markets. Their mission is clear and simple: “We believe that good, clean, healthy food should be accessible and affordable to all.”

Project founder Melissa was thrilled to hear Will Allen speak again. His message “energized me to keep moving forward with Urban Oasis Project after its first nine months” when it was just her and Art trying to get others involved. She attended a community food systems workshop at Growing Power in 2009 to learn more. “The work he was doing was so similar to what we were trying to achieve: teach people to grow some of their own food, and increase access to fresh, local produce to be eaten with a day or so after harvest,” she said.

Her commitment to Growing Power’s training didn’t stop after the workshop was over. Melissa explained, “I signed a pledge that I would come back to my community and teach others what I learned there. We have been doing that, but some of it is on hold until we have a place to call our own.”

Market manager Art said their non-profit drew from Will Allen’s work, especially in terms of food justice. Art explained, “He’s the inspiration why we started planting gardens, to create the future leaders of the local food movement, especially in neighborhoods where it’s hard to have access to fresh food. First grow community, then soil, then plants.”

And Miss Shirley, a volunteer who helps at Urban Oasis markets, was thrilled to meet Will. “He’s giving back to his people, he’s giving his time. I learned what soil was made of and how to take care of the earth. And to be grateful for what you have.”

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