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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

Onionville was so amazing that I had to document it with my video camera. Here, farmer Arturo Gonzalez takes me on a brief tour of a sea of red and yellow onions drying in the barn at Bee Heaven Farm. If you are a CSA member, you ate his lovely red spring onions not too long ago. There’s plenty more where that came from, if you like such things. Keep your eyes open for onions in the summer offerings.

This is the very first farm video I’m posting on the blog and on YouTube. If you want to see more videos, let me know and I’ll post some more, now and then, when I get a chance.

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Red and yellow onions drying in the front stall.

A sea of organic onions has washed up at the horse barn at Bee Heaven Farm. The onions  are laid out in two double rows on either side of the walkway, and one layer deep on tables in two of the stalls. The red spring onions still have their tops attached, and the big round yellow ones are topless. They are drying out so they can be kept longer in storage.

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Farmer Arturo dropping off a million onions. Farm worker Luz in background. Photo by Margie Pikarsky.

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Yellow onions drying in the back stall.

Farmer Arturo Gonzalez of Sunshine Organic Farm grew all these onions for the CSA. “So many onions, I don’t know what to do with them!” he told me. “I’ve been eating onions every day — onions with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I still have too many onions!”

You can help Margie with her onion problem by grabbing some at the next summer offering. Just think — onion soup, caramelized onions (my favorite), dried onions, onions in omelets with fresh herbs — I could go on and on…

If you aren’t already, get on Farmer Margie’s mailing list so you don’t miss out on a single deal during the off season!

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Sea of red spring onions.

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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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Hidden in fennel

While packing shares last Friday, farm hand Victor spotted this beauty.

While packing shares last Friday, farm hand Victor spotted this beauty.

CSA members, did you look carefully at the fronds of fennel that was in your share box last week? You might have been lucky enough to get a caterpillar!

Look carefully, there’s a thin line holding it in place on the branch of fennel. The caterpillar is starting its transformation into a chrysalis, and from there, will emerge as a butterfly. Anybody got any ideas what what kind of butterfly this might become?

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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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It’s that time of year when heirloom tomatoes are coming in thick and fast. You’ll find them in all shapes and sizes and colors at the Redland Organics tent at Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market on Sundays.

Big ones, small ones, green, red, yellow, even orange, looking like jewels, enticing you to gather them from their wooden trays.

Eat one and you’ll know why people are crazy about heirlooms. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re just bursting with real flavor, their seed saved for generations.

Green ones tend to be a bit more tart, yellow and orange are sweet, and “black” ones have the richest flavor of all.

To serve, slice and add a little bit of good olive oil and sea salt and you’ve got locavore heaven on your plate and in your mouth.

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Locally grown round red slicers.

Round and red, and kind of ordinary looking, the slicing tomatoes in your CSA share box a few weeks ago didn’t seem very special, did they? But they are, and what made this year’s crop different is the way it was grown — in pots of soil, not directly in the ground. (The variety itself, Florida 47, is a commercial hybrid that’s been around for a long time, and is known as a good producing plant.)

Dan’s field of tomatoes in pots.

Farmer Dan raised the Florida 47s one plant per container, dozens of rows marching across a field blanketed with shiny black landscaping cloth, hundreds of staked tomatoes filling up three and a half acres. Why grow in pots? Because the land Dan had to use for growing, across from the Keys Gate Market Garden, was former swampland filled in with rock and even chunks of concrete, thin soil supporting only weeds. “Seven, eight, ten feet of fill instead of soil, and it was absolutely impossible to grow anything there,” Dan explained. Thus hundreds of pots, growing plant nursery style — a quick solution to the no-soil problem. (Plus, it was also the quickest way to get the operation certified organic.)

Read the fine print. This tomato came from Mexico. And people bought it because it’s cheap.

The tomatoes were delicious and beautiful, but financially the crop was a disaster. Startup costs were much higher than if he had planted directly into a fertile field. The potted plants required a lot of input — fertilizer and insect control sprays — plus you have to take into account the cost of soil, pots, landscaping cloth, irrigation and labor. “It cost me seventeen thousand dollars gross to set up, and my net was damn near nothing,” Dan grumbled.

Just as Dan was starting to harvest a few weeks ago, round red organic tomatoes from Mexico flooded the local market. (You might have seen them at area stores.) Thanks to NAFTA, the dollar-peso exchange rate, and low labor costs, organic tomatoes from Mexico were wholesaling for a lot less than what Dan was asking for.

No way he could make a profit. And he was stuck with bushels of tomatoes he had to unload. So he sold them at cost to farmer Margie of Bee Heaven Farm, and everybody in her CSA, large and small shares alike, got round red tomatoes. And, there’s Florida 47s to be had at the Keys Gate Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market on Sundays, while they last.

Tomatoes left to rot.

It’s not just organic growers who gambled and lost hard this season. I saw a field off Krome Ave. and SW 168 St. where the grower didn’t even bother harvesting his tomatoes. He left his crop to rot on the vines. Half the field was brown and dead, like it went through the worst freeze — and in the absence of recent cold weather, a sign it had been doused with herbicide. Why bother to spend more for labor to pick the crop when he was already in the hole raising it? (Food activists may want to chime in about holding off on chemicals, and allowing people to come glean fields to salvage food.)

Mexican produce aside, growing organic tomatoes in pots was an interesting experiment, but not one Dan cares to repeat any time soon. “It’s not sustainable,” he said. He is sticking with growing slightly more profitable green beans grown in a field of real dirt. It’s a gamble he knows how to win a bit better, providing there’s no hard winter freezes. “You want to know how to make a little money in farming?” Dan asked. “Start with a LOT of money.” And he laughed long and hard at his familiar joke.

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