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Posts Tagged ‘Margie Pikarsky’

Margie Pikarsky with bunches of parsnips from Bee Heaven Farm.

Local food writer Ellen Kanner writes a blog about food on Huffington Post. As part of the “Who Grows Our Food” series of farmer profiles, today’s post is about one of our best-known local growers, Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm. Check it out here:

Who Grows Our Food: Margie Pikarsky, Bee Heaven Farm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-kanner/who-grows-our-food-margie_b_1671108.html

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Mango Cafe at the Fruit and Spice Park

Recently, farmer Margie Pikarsky and her husband Nick, daughter Rachel and my friend John DeFaro joined me for lunch at the Mango Cafe, located at the Fruit and Spice Park. The Cafe is by the park’s main entrance, inside a rustic wooden house. We were there for the fruit sampler, made fresh daily from whatever fruits are ripe that day in the park. Talk about extreme locavore! But the sampler was sold out so we had to console ourselves with other fresh, local delicacies like Florida lobster roll, shrimp tacos, and mango-passionfruit shakes.

John DeFaro and Margie Pikarsky dig in to lunch. On the wall behind is a picture of the Redland District Band of 1913, and a Redland District tour guide from the 1930s.

The wooden house is not as old as it looks. It’s a reproduction. The original was built in 1902 by pioneer settler John Bauer, and got destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The replica was rebuilt with FEMA funds and completed in 2002. Inside the house (where the original living and dining rooms would have been), framed old photos and maps lined the walls. Over by the front door was a map with charred edges. It’s the original planting guide that had been saved from a fire. By our table was a series of pictures of the first land survey for the park in 1944, the year the park opened. Sixty eight years ago the land was almost completely barren, except for a scattering of royal palms and Australian pines. Big difference between then and now!

Now the 37 acre county park is lush with over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts, some you may have heard of, and many you might not have. Tram tours will take you around, and the guide will fill you in about the plants and the history of the park. Where else in Miami would you find 150 varieties of mangos, 75 varieties of bananas, crimson gak fruit, sensitive cacao growing sheltered in a heated greenhouse, or annatto to stain your fingertips bright orange?

Park manager Chris Rollins

Fruit and Spice Park is also the site for many events and festivals throughout the year. Coming up this month is the Redland Heritage Festival, which will feature historical exhibits, local arts and crafts, and an Everglades reptile show. At one Heritage Festival a few years ago, I remember admiring a collection of vintage tractors, and at another sampling a variety of mangoes. Coming up later in the year, the park will also host the Asian Culture festival, the Redland International Orchid Show, and summer’s Mango Mania.

If you haven’t been to the park, go! It’s nothing you’ve seen before. If you haven’t gone in a while, go again. They’ve added an herb garden and a large pond edged with many varieties of bamboo. The place changes as different plants bloom and bear at different times of the year. Word to the curious — please don’t pick fruits off trees, but you may taste what has fallen to the ground. Most plants or fruits are safe to nibble, unless a sign warns otherwise.

37th Annual Redland Heritage Festival
January 21 and 22, 2012 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission $8 (children 11 and under are free)

Fruit and Spice Park
24801 SW 187 Ave. Homestead FL
305-247-5727

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Avocado grove getting trimmed.

The avocado season is over at Bee Heaven Farm. The last of the big, plump Donnie avocados got picked weeks ago. The lull between picking fruit and and blooming season (usually around January) brings off-season maintenance. Almost every year the tree trimmer comes to cut back all the avocado trees. Call it their summertime haircut, with a little off the sides and top.

Trimming happens for practical reasons. Farmer Margie Pikarsky explained, “You don’t need a tall tree to produce fruit, and you don’t get a proportionally greater harvest just because it’s tall. Harvesting a tall tree is way more labor-intensive and requires special equipment — at minimum a tall ladder, at best a cherry picker.” Avocados are picked by hand, and Margie’s pickers either climb the tree or go up an orchard ladder, which has a tripod-like leg to keep it standing up by itself. Margie added that “a shorter tree (about 15 feet) is MUCH more hurricane resistant.”

A little off the sides.

When you have a grove of 90-some trees, you need to bring in some serious cutting power. The man who trims trees showed up early one morning with a very impressive machine. Imagine a bobcat whose operator not only drives the machine but also controls an articulated arm mounted at the top. This arm can reach up or down, swing around from side to side, or turn from horizontal to vertical. At the business end of this arm is a revolving metal piece, and three spinning circular saw blades are attached to it. Those revolving blades cut through branches smoothly and easily. The whole rig looks like something Freddy Scissorhands dreamed up.

And a little off the top.

The tree trimmer drove his cutting machine up and down the shaggy rows of the avocado grove. He maneuvered the arm to first trim the sides of the rows, and then made a final pass to level the tops. Branches fell onto the safety cage of the bobcat and onto the ground. Scraggly trees transformed into huge boxy hedges, like something you might find in a giant’s formal garden.

Sadie (under tree) and Pedro (with pitchfork) gather cut branches.

Once the tree trimmer was done, there was a mess to clean up. Pedro used a pitchfork to grab and pull out cut branches that had snagged in trees. Sadie went after branches lying underneath. They were tossed on the grass in between the rows. Then Margie came with the bush hog to chew up fallen branches and turn them into coarse mulch. (A bush hog is a tractor attachment that looks and works like a large, heavy duty mower.) Margie made a few passes up and down each row, and gestured for me to step aside, but I stood my ground, taking pictures. I quickly realized that it wasn’t a good idea for me to stand off to the side as the bush hog went by. Twice I got hit by bits of flying branches, once on the foot and once on the arm. No blood lost, just a moment of surprise. (I think Margie was trying to warn me not to lose a camera — or an eye.) Lesson learned: don’t stand too close to a working brush hog!

Margie mulches branches with the brush hog.

What looks like a severe trimming is not bad for the tree. In fact, trimming keeps trees healthy and vigorous. They will grow new branches and look less and less boxy as the months go by. “Avocados flower and fruit on new growth, so trimming after harvest is finished gives them time for a couple of new growth flushes before blooming begins, thus increasing chances of a good yield next season,” Margie explained. More new growth means more fruit and more deliciousness in summer!

After the trim.

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The choice is not local or organic but how, through your organic food purchases, you can incorporate supporting local agriculture, local communities and and local economies into an organic lifestyle. The more you were into local culture, the more important it is to support organics in your region.
– George Siemon, Organic Valley

Carolann and Ted Baldyga, Hani Khouri

As the locavore dinner unfolded I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this was the way previous generations ate in this area. Crab, wild pig, cobia, coconut for sure, and other foods were later introduced. Many tropical things, whether native or  introduced, don’t grow in more northern latitudes. Jaboticaba, bignay, betel leaf, callaloo, Red Ceylon peach, rangpur lime, Mysore raspberries  — you’re not going to find most of those at a supermarket in Miami — or New Jersey! (But you can find some things at farmers markets, or grow others in your back yard.)

James and Donna Patrick, Laura Veitia

Earth Dinner calls for us to honor the earth, the very dirt we stand on, by honoring our food. And by so doing, we honor our farmers — a stubborn, determined, independent tribe — who work very hard to feed us. In fact most of the growers who provided the ingredients for our dinner were present — Robert Barnum, Margie Pikarsky, Hani Khouri, George Figueroa, Teena Borek, and guests Thi and Bill Squire representing our local Slow Food Miami chapter.

Bill and Thi Squire

Robert and Margie’s Earth Dinner was only one of two in the entire state of Florida. I’m a bit surprised there weren’t more. A wide range of food grows in the spaces outside urban development, and agriculture is the state’s second largest source of revenue. City dwellers are quick to forget that they live among farmers, even as farmers are pushed back by relentless waves of development.

Robin and Carol Faber

Margie stood up and spoke at the close of dinner. “This dinner is about the importance of the local farmer. It’s important that we support the local foodshed and the richness of the local food here. This is the way to keep our country strong and our food safe. By keeping food regional, it’s easier to control food safety.”

Anthony Rodriguez, George Figueroa, Tina Trescone

Know where your food comes from, or how it was grown and processed. Connect the food with the place where you live, and you will be healthier and stronger for it. At last month’s Earth Dinner, the taste of this place was in the food and drink. It was unlike any dinner I’d eaten anywhere else. And it sure made for good experience and good memories! If I were to savor a perfectly ripe Mysore raspberry or take a sip of bignay wine, blindfolded, years from now, I would remember in a heartbeat this dinner and this particular abundant land — thanks to our local farmers!

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Add family, friends, and sharing stories about this connection with one another, and you have the recipe for change. Each element is of equal importance to an Earth Dinner and to the food culture — spinning yarns, savoring food, learning to truly listen. We have much to connect here, and we need each other’s wisdom to do it.
– Theresa Marquez

Guests settled in at table.

With the sun setting and appetites provoked by wood smoke, guests made their way back to the house and took their seats at table in the high ceilinged, open beamed dining room. Even Robert’s unassuming house has a story. It’s positioned on the property to make the best use of the prevailing breezes and stays cool with cross ventilation (something that contemporary house builders have forgotten to do). High ceilings, large windows and wide overhangs are part of the design to stay cool in tropical heat. Only two fans supplemented the evening breeze to keep guests comfortable.

Each dish that was served came with its own story about where the food came from. Margie and Robert took turns telling those stories, and fisherman George “Trigger” Figueroa also chimed in with his own tales of adventure. The foods were accompanied with wines from Schnebly and some of Robert’s best vintages.

Heirloom tomatoes topped with goat cheese and purple basil.

And so the dinner began, and grew to a torrent of local abundance and deliciousness. Salad featured Teena’s heirloom tomatoes, and right away I fell in love with the orange one called appropriately enough, Tangerine. It has a bright, citrusy flavor, thus the name, and is said to be loaded with lycopene. Other varieties in the salad were Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Tangy and rich tomato flavors were balanced by crumbles of mild goat cheese. The salad was paired with Schnebly’s avocado wine, which tastes surprisingly crisp and clean, similar to a pinot grigio, and not one whiff of avocado. Teena said she has been growing tomatoes and vegetables in a sustainable way for over 35 years in Redland.

Vichysoisse with multicolor potato chips.

If you attended the Potato Pandemonium dinner last year, you’ll remember the vichyssoise. The soup was light and delicate in flavor and texture, but this time was more orange than lavender in color. (The color is determined by the mix of potatoes in a particular batch.) A handful of crispy potato chips topped the soup and gave it a salty crunch. The creamy half and half used to thicken the soup came from Dakin Dairy in Myakka City. Robert explained the potatoes came from a nearby field where the State of Maine tests their seed crop of spuds every year. Many different kinds in all different colors — red, blue, golden, white — are grown. Robert has permission to forage after they plow the crop under. Potatoes were a popular crop in Redland, grown in clay-like marl soil. But in the last decade, potato fields have given way to fields of houses and paved roads.

Tempura battered betel leaf and blue crab rangoon.

Tempura battered betel leaf with crab rangoon had also gone through its evolution into a lighter dish. Robert got several pounds of local blue crabs from Card Sound Crabs Company located not too far away on rustic Card Sound Road. The crabs had been swimming just the day before. It took three people about three hours to pick out all the crab meat. (Talk about slow food!) The crab sauce was less creamy than I remembered, and that was a good thing, allowing the delicate crab flavor to come through. The crunchy fried leaf served as a deconstructed fried wonton wrapper and added smoky flavor. This dish was served with Schnebly’s coconut wine, which had a slight coconut flavor that became more pronounced as it warmed.

Wild caught cobia with broiled red grapefruit and Ponderosa lemon.

Crab rangoon was followed by another seafood dish, wild caught cobia. It’s a gamefish that migrates from the Gulf, around the coast of Florida and into the Carolinas. When this particular fish was swimming, it was about 38 inches long. Local fisherman George Figueroa speared it while free diving in about 25 feet of water off the coast of Jacksonville, and was present at the dinner to tell the tale.

Robert Barnum opens up a Ponderosa lemon.

The carambola glazed, wood grilled fillet was thick and meaty, much like cod, and its flavor reminded me of mackerel. It was served with broiled red grapefruit from David’s Organics and a huge slice of Ponderosa lemon which Robert grows. He passed one around to examine. It was bigger than a softball and had thick bumpy skin. Its taste was mildly acid (similar to Bahamas lemon which Margie grows at Bee Heaven). The dish was accompanied by one of Robert’s wines made from araça, a tart yellow fruit that also makes great ice cream, but is too sour to eat on its own. The araça wine was light in color and a bit fruity, but not quite as complex as chardonnay.

Wood smoked wild boar with tamarind-peach chutney and callaloo.

Smoked wild boar came with its own story too. The meat had been donated by chef Michael Schwartz, who shot it on a hunt in the woods near Lake Okeechobee. (Read about the hunt on Michael’s blog.) George explained to dinner guests that feral pigs roam all over Florida, and can cause a considerable amount of damage as they root for food. But this particular pig was a menace no more. Robert smoked the pork for eight hours in his outside wood fired smoker, using Florida mahogany wood. It was glazed with a tamarind-peach chutney sauce, and served with more of the same on the side. The lightly smoked roast pork was lean and had a slightly chewy texture, to be expected from an animal that got lots of exercise. Fruit for the chutney came from Robert’s grove. Red Ceylon peach has a light colored flesh with red around the pit, and its light peachy flavor makes for a good ice cream (which made an appearance at the ice cream social last summer). Robert explained that this peach is one of very few varieties that had been grown commercially in South Florida over 50 years ago but no longer, because it is susceptible to fruit fly infestation. The wild boar was served with two large dollops of callaloo (also known as Jamaican spinach) grown at Three Sisters Farm. The greens were cooked with scallions and garlic chives from Bee Heaven Farm. The dish was served with Robert’s jaboticaba wine, which was purplish, tasted a bit sweet and grape-like, and went quite well with the chutney. It seemed to be one one of the more popular wines of the night.

Grassfed beef with oyster muchrooms and roasted multicolor potatoes.

The third entree was grassfed beef raised at Deep Creek Ranch located in DeLand. (According to their web site, the cattle are raised on pasture according to organic practices but are not actually certified organic.) On my plate was a large chunk of meat with a marrow bone that appeared even larger because it was draped with sauteed oyster mushrooms from Happy Shrooms, and was accompanied by a side of smoked multicolor potatoes from the Maine testing fields, carrots and onions from Worden Farm, and parsnips and rosemary grown at Bee Heaven. Robert said the shank meat had been browned and oven braised in a blend of his homemade tropical fruit wines for about eight hours until it was tender. I was starting to get full when the beef arrived, but after one bite, couldn’t set it aside untouched. It had a rich taste and the wine reduction added to the depth of the flavor. The meat was falling off the bone, and a dollop of marrow was worth pursuing with the tip of a knife. The beef was served along with Robert’s bignay wine, which has a dark red color and tastes similar to cabernet. Some people think it’s too astringent, but it held up well to the richness of the beef.

Carambola pie with rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato and fresh Mysore raspberries.

Dessert — as if anyone could eat another bite — was Robert’s familiar square slab of carambola pie made with a whole wheat crust, accompanied by two scoops of rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato made with goat’s milk. The carambola, rangpur lime and sapodilla came from Robert’s grove,  and milk from Hani’s goat herd just down the street. The pie tasted like a tangy peach pie, and the gelato was a light dance of sweet and sour. Both were topped with a sprinkling of freshly picked Mysore raspberries from Bee Heaven. The dessert was paired with a sweet bignay wine that was as thick and strong as an elixir, almost too strong and sweet for me. Robert said he made it with twice the fruit and twice the sugar.

Weber, Mike and Sadie from Bee Heaven Farm helped with prep.

I’ve been to several dinner events at Robert’s and with this one he had outdone himself. His cooking and presentation gets better and better with each event, and it doesn’t hurt that he had excellent fresh local ingredients to work with and lots of willing helpers. Yes, there were a few minor glitches — the appetizer and soup courses didn’t come out of the kitchen in order, others weren’t paced evenly, and a few stray cobwebs lingered in a chandelier. But for the most part, the event went smoothly. Food presentation was professional and the service (by volunteers!) was very, very good. Kudos to Kathy, Karen, Sadie, Mike and Weber!

<< to be continued >>

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The dinner table is perhaps the most powerful and delicious place to plant the seeds of change; the return to simple truths, change, and wisdom all go hand in hand. Our first step toward change can be to pause when we take our first bite and think about our connections with food. Aha! Understanding this connection is the essence of the Earth Dinner.
– Theresa Marquez, founder of Earth Dinner

Earth Dinner is a new holiday tradition meant to celebrate Earth Day. It was started four seven years ago by Organic Valley and Chefs Collaborative as a way to gather friends and loved ones around the table for a fresh, seasonal meal made of local ingredients. The focus of the Dinner is to have a meaningful conversation about the food — where it came from, how it was grown or harvested, and who grew it. So it was only natural that farmer Margie Pikarsky and grower/chef Robert Barnum would organize their own Earth Dinner,  held the weekend after Earth Day.

Earth Dinner at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery.

Call it extreme locavore. The challenge was to source all ingredients — except for flour and olive oil — from what was available locally. And so the hunting and foraging began. Chef Michael Schwartz  donated wild boar he had hunted himself together with local fisherman George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood, who donated cobia. Hani Khouri provided cheese and milk from his goats. Large beautiful heirloom tomatoes came from grower Teena Borek. Callaloo came from Three Sisters Farm, and a variety of herbs and vegetables from Bee Heaven Farm. Winemaker Peter Schnebly donated two kinds of local fruit wine. And a plethora of fruit came from Robert’s own grove.

At the wood smoker, Weber bastes wild boar and Sadie checks multi-color potatoes.

Margie and her crew volunteered to help clean and cook, and Robert’s friends pitched in. Preparations took days and went up to the last minute. When I arrived an hour before dinner, a plume of blue smoke chugged from the wood smoker outside the house, as wild boar and multi-color potatoes cooked inside. Both kitchens were humming with activity as helpers chopped, stirred, snipped and tossed. In the dining room, two long tables were covered with white linen and glittered with fine china, glassware and silver. Centerpieces of mixed flowers — food for local bees — from Bee Heaven Farm graced the tables. Glass goblets were stocked with braided breadsticks that had been baked in the wood oven and looked like branches plucked from the grove. Even the sea salt was local, produced by a small company in the Florida Keys.

Donna and James Patrick smell crushed bay rum leaves.

While there was still daylight before dinner, Robert offered guests a short tour of his 40 acre property. Everything he grows is useful in some way. He pointed out bay rum, lemon bay and citronella outside the house, and invited guests to crush leaves and smell different scents. Jaboticaba was nearby, with small, unripe berries growing on its trunk. It bears fruit three or four times a year. Robert harvests the berries for wine, of which we got a taste later in the dinner. Guests strolled through the grove and saw macadamia, mango, and lychee trees (to name just a few of the edibles that I recognized).

<< to be continued >>

Robert Barnum holds up a jaboticaba fruit.


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Check out this article in the Miami Herald today about Teena’s Pride CSA pickups at area Whole Foods stores. Farmer Margie Pikarsky is also quoted.

Farm fresh: Shoppers can now order straight from growers

Whole Foods offers help to Community Supported Agriculture programs. Consumers can now pick up their pre-ordered produce from local farms at stores.

By ELAINE WALKER
ewalker@MiamiHerald.com

Geane Brito has to wait until her two kids get out of school before going to Whole Foods in Miami Beach to pick up their box of vegetables for the week from Teena’s Pride in the Redland.

Magnus and Isadora Kron, ages 8 and 10, dash immediately into the store, eager to take inventory of the seasonal vegetables just picked from a local farm: broccoli leaves, heirloom tomatoes, poblano peppers and carrots with the tops still attached.

Brito’s family is part of a growing group in South Florida and around the country embracing Community Supported Agriculture. For $20 to $40 a week, they buy ultra-fresh food straight from the farm at prices similar to the grocery store. And their contribution helps small farmers remain in business.

“I want my children to have the experience of knowing that fresh vegetables don’t grow at the supermarket,” said Brito, who lives on South Beach.

While the CSA concept historically has cut the grocery store out of the equation, Whole Foods stores in Florida are aiming to change that. The chain is kicking off a program to offer local farms free use of Whole Foods stores throughout the state as drop-off and pick-up points for the weekly deliveries.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/07/2055665/farm-fresh-shoppers-can-now-order.html

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