Posts Tagged ‘Arturo Gonzalez’

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.


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.


Bananas and plantains at Going Bananas


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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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.


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


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!


Sea of red spring onions.

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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
Open 7 days a week, 9 am to 6 pm. Open all year. 

Margie crunched down on fried fish fins.

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