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Posts Tagged ‘Laura Lafata’

(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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It was a great weekend for the Fairchild Farm & Garden Festival, sunny and warm but not yet excruciatingly hot. A lot was going on, and I was running from presentations in the Garden Room to various tents and back trying to keep up with interesting events.

Margie Pikarsky

On Saturday morning, I dropped in at the start of Farmer Margie Pikarsky’s presentation on preserving the harvest. As usual, she gave a well-researched lecture on different kinds of food preservation — freezing, fermentation, dehydration, brining, pickling, and canning. The handout was chock full of info, and if you didn’t make it to the lecture, you can download it here.

As for following recipes and instructions that one finds published in books and elsewhere, Margie cautioned that “all publications are geared for the temperate zone. You can’t listen to them. We have to modify. It’s warmer here and chemical reactions happen faster. You have to be aware of that. Sauerkraut can take two weeks instead of two months. There’s potential for vegetables to go bad in the heat when fermenting. Start with organic produce which has less mold and contaminants.” Margie recommended the book Wild Fermentation if you want more detailed instructions for pickling and fermenting.

Stopped by the Cooking Demo tent to say hi to Laura Lafata aka La Diva Cucina. She was getting ready to give a presentation on preparing radishes with vermouth. The radishes looked happy to be in her hands, and vermouth is an ingredient I hadn’t thought of using. (The recipe is at the bottom of this post.)

Laura Lafata aka La Diva Cucina

Talk about food makes me hungry, so I prowled around looking for something good to eat. Found Margie standing in line at the bright green Native Conch stand, and we got the last of the conch salad. Thanks to Jason for taking care of us!

Claire Tomlin with potted herbs for sale.

Came across Claire Tomlin of The Market Company showing off her latest venture. She has ready-to-grow raised garden beds made of cedar that you can use in your yard. The beds come in a package that includes a cedar frame, soil blend, vegetable and herb starter plants, organic fertilizer and mulch. All you need to add is water and sunlight. It’s too late to plant almost all vegetables now (remember, we’re in the sub-tropical growing zone), but there’s more than enough time to get ready for fall planting. If you’re interested, contact Dylan Terry at dylanjterry(at)gmail.com or call 786-436-7703 for more information.

Pure beeswax candles available from Miguel Bode the beekeeper.

Said hi to Miguel Bode the beekeeper on the way out, and he revealed that he has the largest display of pure beeswax candles anywhere (well, at least at the festival). He uses 35 different molds to shape wax extracted from his hives.

My name was on the schedule for the food bloggers panel Saturday afternoon, but I couldn’t stay due to a schedule conflict. Thanks to Melissa Contreras and Annie Stamps of Fairchild for inviting me to participate in the Festival. You ladies rock!

Sauteed Radishes and Tops over Bow Tie Pasta with Apple Chicken Sausage

Serves four main dinners or six starter plates


Ingredients:

1 lb. box of bow tie pasta
1 bunch of radishes with tops attached
1 pkg. organic apple chicken sausage
dash white vermouth
good quality extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

Method:

Put on pasta water to boil and once boiling, add a dash of salt. Cook pasta al dente in salted water for a minute or two less than suggested When pasta is cooked, drain into colander, saving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Set aside.

While pasta is cooking, fill sink with cool water. Chop radish tops and wash thoroughly in water, let green tops drain and then blot dry with paper towels. Wash radishes and thinly slice, set aside.

Heat large fry pan on stove and slice sausages into quarter inch slices. Add olive oil to pan and when heated, add sausages, lower heat to medium high and saute until brown on both sides, being careful not to burn. Put cooked sausage on plate, set aside.

Heat fry pan again and add more olive oil if needd. Once hot, add radishes, lightly salt and cook over medium heat until light brown on both sides. Turn up heat and add a dash of vermouth to deglaze pan, continue cooking radishes for another 30 seconds or until soft. Add to the plate of cooked sausage.

Heat fry pan and use more oil if necessary. Lightly saute greens until just wilted, add pasta to pan along with sausages and radishes and thoroughly combine all ingredients. Cook over medium high heat for another minute, adding a bit of pasta water to make a light sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over each serving.

Copyright (c) La Diva Cucina Inc.

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